Risking it All

Falling in love was too risky.  She wasn’t brave enough to go out there and find love as so many of her friends did.  She didn’t want to get hurt.  She had seen too many people close to her go through terrible break-ups, embittering them.  Being single and relatively happy was better than being married and miserable.  The single life worked for her and she wasn’t about to change anything.  Then, one fateful day, he walked into her life and changed everything.

Sighing heavily, she thrust aside the magazine she had been trying to read and got up from the sofa.  She walked over to the windows and stood looking out at the street below, though her mind was miles away.  She was thinking of the first time she met him.

It was several weeks ago and she was on the rooftop of the office building, just getting a breath of fresh air when she heard footsteps behind her.  She turned to see Megan coming toward her and she wasn’t alone.  A tall and very attractive man was with her.  He was dressed in a light pinstriped suit, white shirt and blue tie.  When he got closer, she noticed that he had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen—they were tawny colored almost like a lion’s.  His thick brown hair moved slightly in the light summer breeze.

“One of your co-workers told me I would find you up here,” Megan said.  “Rebecca, you finally get to meet Lex.  Lex, this is my best friend, Rebecca.”

Rebecca smiled and held out her hand.  “Lex, it’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’ve heard so much about you.”

He smiled and grasped her hand in a firm handshake, his eyes meeting hers.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”  When he released her hand, Megan moved closer to him and slipped her arm through his.

“Lex and I were on our way to have lunch when I thought it would be a great idea to stop by your office first.”

Rebecca folded her arms and tried not to stare at him.  She wished she had worn her light blue skirt suit instead of the black pants suit and had done something with her hair which was not having a good day.  “Well, enjoy your lunch and thanks for stopping by.”

“I’ll call you later,” Megan promised.  She looked great in her hot pink skirt suit, and white strappy sandals.  And her chestnut hair fell in thick waves about her shoulders.  As usual, Rebecca felt awkward around her.

Lex said goodbye to Rebecca before he turned and walked away with Megan clinging to his arm.

After they left, Rebecca turned back to face the view she had been admiring before but she didn’t see it.  All she saw was Lex.  For the rest of that afternoon, she thought about him and wondered when she would see him again.  She chided herself for having such thoughts but she couldn’t help it.  That night when she was lying in bed, he filled her mind and when she eventually drifted off to sleep she dreamt about him.

The ringing of the telephone jolted her back to the present and she walked over to see who was calling.  Megan’s number showed up on the display.   She was tempted to let the machine pick up because she felt so guilty but she decided to pick up.  “Hello, Megan.”

“Rebecca, please tell me that you don’t have any plans for Saturday night.”

“I don’t—”

“Great!  The four of us are going for dinner and dancing.”

“The four of us?”

“Yes.  Lex, me, Paul and you.”

“Who’s Paul?”

“He’s Lex’s friend.  I think he’s from Haiti or Kenya.  I can’t remember which.  He’s a really nice fellow.  I’m sure you’d like him.  Wear something sexy or stunning to impress him.  Lex and I will pick you up at seven-thirty and we’ll meet him at the restaurant.”

“Megan, I really don’t want—“

“Sure you do.  It will be fun.  See you on Saturday. ‘Bye.”  She hung up before Rebecca could say anything else.

Signing, Rebecca placed the phone back in its cradle and went over to the sofa where she stretched out, her hand to her head which was throbbing now.  Well, you wanted to see Lex again, a traitorous voice reminded her.  You can dress sexy for him to get him to notice you.

Flustered, she sat up and turned on the television to tune out the unwelcomed thoughts.  She made a mental note of all the dresses she had in her closet and decided that none of them would do.  She had to get a new one which meant she had to get a new pair of shoes and she had to make an appointment to get her hair done.  It needed relaxing.

Friday came and went quickly and then it was Saturday morning.  She woke up early and did her housekeeping.  She went for groceries and then for her hair appointment.  She grabbed lunch at a bistro before heading to the stores to buy her new outfit.

As seven-thirty approached, the excitement and apprehension she was feeling increased.  She was excited about seeing Lex again but she was not looking forward to meeting her date.  At six-fifteen, she took one last look at herself in the full-length mirror in the hall.  The black, sleeveless cocktail dress with the scoop neck flattered her figure.  Her hair fell in thick waves about her face.  And the peep toe shoes completed the outfit very nicely.

Satisfied with how she looked, she took up her clutch bag from the bed and left the room.  She got a few looks as she stepped on and out of the lift.  She said hello to the guard at the concierge watching her as she walked past and she could feel his eyes still on her as she went through the doors leading out to the courtyard.

At precisely seven-thirty, a sleek black Rolls Royce drove up and Lex got out.  He walked to the passenger behind the driver’s seat and held it open for her.  As she walked toward the car, her heart was pounding and her legs felt wobbly.  She plastered a smile on her face, hoping that she looked like she had it all together.  Her eyes travelled over his tall frame, thinking how gorgeous he looked in the charcoal grey suit, black dress shirt and black tie.  He smiled at her now.  “Good evening.”

“Good evening,” she replied.  Before she climbed into the car, she caught a whiff of his cologne.

“You look great, Rebecca,” Megan said when she got into the car.  “I’m sure Paul will be very impressed.”

“Thank you.” Rebecca hoped that her friend didn’t think she had dressed like this for Paul.

“We’re going to The Fresh Vine,” Megan told her.  “I booked a table in the VIP section in the nightclub.  So, while we are eating, we can enjoy the music and then dance afterwards.   Lex doesn’t like to dance but I manage to get him up on his feet at least for a couple of dances.”

Lex was quiet on the drive over.  Megan did most of the talking.  Rebecca was relieved when they finally got to the restaurant.  Rebecca watched as Megan came out of the car.  She looked stunning in an off the shoulder, cherry shaded dress with a flare skirt and her hair was in an updo with a few tendrils framing her face.

As planned Paul was waiting at the entrance for them.  He waved when he saw them.  Rebecca looked him over as they approached him.  He was medium height.  He was dressed in a black suit and a grey tie.  He shook Lex’s hand and hugged Megan who then introduced him to Rebecca.

His smile broadened when he saw Rebecca and he shook her hand rather enthusiastically.  “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said with an unmistakable Kenyan accent.

Rebecca smiled.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” she said while thinking that he was holding her hand a little long.  He walked alongside her as they made their way into the restaurant and downstairs to the nightclub.   It was a really nice place—warm, modern, friendly ambience.  Paul sat down next to her while Lex and Megan sat across from them.  Rebecca was thankful that she wasn’t sitting directly opposite Lex.  She would feel nervous eating in front of him.  A couple of times when she looked across at him, she found that he was already looking at her.  Perhaps he was checking to see how she and his friend were getting along, she thought.

Dinner was very tasty.  She thoroughly enjoyed it.  She treated had the same dessert as Megan while the men opted passed on it.  Then, Paul asked her for a dance and she stood up, feeling Lex’s eyes on her but she didn’t turn to look at him.  She thought it best not to.  It felt good stretching her legs after sitting for so long.  Paul was a very good dance and they danced a few dances and then they returned to the table.

Megan and Lex were heading to the dance floor.  “The two of you looked great out there on the dance floor,” Megan commented as she passed them.

Rebecca sat down, glad to be off her feet and watched them.  She tried to pay attention to what Paul was saying.  For someone who didn’t like dancing, Lex was excellent at it.  His movements were fluid and she found herself wishing that it was her he was dancing with instead of Megan.  What would it be like to feel his hand pressing into the small of her back holding her against his firm body as they moved to the music?  She shook her head and quickly turned away.  Paul asked her if she wanted another drink and she said yes.  It would be good to be alone for a few minutes, she thought.  It was hard trying to be attentive to one man when you wanted to be with another.

While he was gone, Lex returned alone to the table.  “Megan went to freshen up,” he explained as he sat down.  “Where’s Paul?”

“He went to get me another drink.”

“So, what do you think of him?”

“He seems like a really nice man,” she said.  But, he’s not the man for me.

“Are you going to see him again?”

“I don’t know.”  Now, why did she say that?  She wasn’t planning on going out with Paul again.

Lex’s expression changed.  “What if I told you that I don’t want you to go out with him?” he asked quietly and she looked at him in surprise.

She opened her mouth to ask him why when Paul returned to the table.  Paul handed Rebecca her drink and sat down beside her.  She sipped her drink while the two men talked and then Megan joined them.  It was after midnight when they left the place.  Paul took her home this time and when he offered to see her to her door, she politely turned him down.  She thanked him for a pleasant evening and bade him goodnight.

The next morning Megan called her to find out what she thought of Paul.  “He’s a nice man but I’m not attracted to him. “Sorry, Megan.”  They spoke for a while then they rang off. Rebecca got busy fixing dinner and getting ready for work the next day.  She tried to busy so that she wouldn’t think about Lex.  It didn’t work.  That night, she laid awake, thinking about him and wondering if he was with Megan at that very moment.  Jealousy tore at her and she groaned, burying her face in the pillow.

On Monday around noon, she was standing at her usual spot looking out at the landscape and surrounding buildings when she heard footsteps behind her.  Her heart lurched and then began to beat fast when she turned and saw Lex striding towards her.  Her eyes eagerly drank in every detail of his appearance.  Dressed in a navy blue striped suit, matching tie and light blue shirt, he looked very corporate and very attractive.  She wondered if he had any idea of the effect he had on her.  “What a pleasant surprise,” she said when he reached her.  She was smiling but the smile faded when she saw his face.  He looked very serious.

“I had to see you,” he said.  “I spoke to Paul last night.  He called me and told me that you made it clear that you weren’t interested in him.  He said that you were very diplomatic about it and it was obvious to him that there was someone else in the picture although you didn’t come right out and say so.  It was a strong feeling he had.  Is he right?  Is there someone else?”

Instead of answering his questions, she said, “I thought you would be pleased.  That night at the restaurant you said you didn’t want me to go out with him, don’t you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” he muttered tightly.  “I also remember how beautiful you looked and how hard it was for me to keep my eyes off you.  It drove me insane thinking that you were dressed like that for Paul.”

Her mouth dropped open.  “What?”

“It was torture watching you with him,” he continued, his eyes darkening at the memories.  “I wanted to be the one sitting next to you, dancing with you and buying you a drink.  I wanted to be in his place.”

She stared at him, hardly believing what she was hearing.  Was this another one of her crazy dreams?  “I can’t believe this,” she said more to herself than to him.

“It’s all true.  I have feelings for you, Rebecca, and I’ve had them since we first met.  I never intended for that to happen because of my relationship with Megan.  I don’t know how to be around her now without feeling guilty.  Is there another man in your life?”

She shook her head.  “No, there isn’t.”

“So, Paul was mistaken, then?”  He looked hopeful.

You might as well fess up.  She sighed.  “No, he was right.  love a man I have no business loving.”

Her words devastated him.  He stood there staring at her, his face pale now and his eyes dark with pain.  When he finally spoke, his voice sounded strained.  “Whoever he is, I envy him.”

She stepped closer to him.  “It’s you, Lex,” she told him.  “You’re the man.”

Me?”  He gazed at her, his expression incredulous.  “You love me?”

She nodded, the feelings churning inside her were now written all over her face.  “I love you, Lex.”  Her voice was barely above a whisper.

Lex’s eyes darkened in desire, “I love you too,” he moaned.  His hands left her shoulders and cupped her face.  She closed her eyes, groaning when she felt his mouth moving hungrily on hers.  She wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing into him, loving the feel of his strong body against hers.  They stood there for a long time, kissing each other with total abandon as their feelings for each other poured out like water breaking free from a dam.

Then an image of Megan’s face swam into focus, a stinging reminder of her treachery and with a cry of self-recrimination, Rebecca pulled forcibly away from him.  “We can’t do this,” she gasped, fighting for air.  “As long as you and Megan are together, you and I can’t see each other.”

He nodded, his face flushed and his breathing labored.  “You’re right,” he agreed.  “I have to end my relationship with her.”

“Are you sure?”

He reached out and touched her cheek.  “Yes,” he murmured.  “I can’t continue seeing Megan when I feel this way about you.  It wouldn’t fair to her.  She deserves better.”

Rebecca felt tears prick her eyes as she concluded, “She’s going to hate me.”

“And me.  You and I never meant for this to happen.  It just did.”

“After you tell her could we wait for a while before we start seeing each other?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Okay.  Call me when you’re ready,” he said.  He pulled her against him and kissed her hard and long on the mouth before he turned and walked away.

A month later, she called him and they began to see each other.  Megan confronted her the day after Lex broke up with her.  It was an ugly scene.  Megan was extremely hurt and angry.  She said hurtful things and then stormed out of Rebecca’s flat and out of her life.  Their friendship was over.  After Megan left, Rebecca broke down and cried bitterly.

Two years later Lex and Rebecca got married.  As they stood in the cathedral exchanging their vows, Rebecca knew in her heart that she was marrying the love of her life.  Her only regret was that it cost her a friendship.

 

Source:  Fantasy Name Generators;

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The New Mrs. Cavendish

“She has ascended far above her station, while he, unfortunately has fallen far below his.”

“She’s just a slip of a girl.  What on earth does he see in her?”

“How could she satisfy a man like Maxwell Cavendish?”

“She’s not at all what I expected.  When I think of all the beautiful and glamorous women Maxwell use to be seen with, I’m at a loss as to why he should end up marrying such a simple little creature.”

“I felt sure that my dear Caroline would have been the next Mrs. Cavendish.  You can imagine how shocked the entire family was when we heard of Maxwell’s marriage to that French girl.”

“She probably speaks English rather poorly or doesn’t understand a word of it.”

“Well, I heard that she didn’t know that Maxwell was the son and heir of Lord and Lady Cavendish until after they were married.”

“I heard that they met at the cafe where she worked.”

“Well, I think that she knew who Maxwell was and that’s why she married him.  She’s tired of being a waitress and living at a boarding house in Paris.”

“Married to a waitress.  How disgraceful!”

Yvette sat there, listening them gossip about Maxwell and her, angry tears pricked her eyes.  How dared they presume to know anything about her?  They looked down on her because she wasn’t rich like them or British or glamorous.  They made being a waitress sound like one of the worst job for a woman.  They had no idea that she worked as a waitress during the summer when she was not attending university and she shared a room at a student residence because it was more feasible than renting a room on her own.

Now she understood why Maxwell spent so much time away from his family and their snobbish and pretentious friends who spent most of their time gossiping and looking down at those whom they considered to be beneath them.

It is true that they met at the café where she worked.  It was in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  He walked in one afternoon shortly after she began her shift.  He was wearing an orange sweater over a blue and white shirt and a pair of white pants.  His sandy colored hair was nearly combed.  He looked so out of place in the café but he didn’t seem to mind.  He went and sat at a table beside the window.  She waited a few minutes before she went over to him to see if he was ready for her to take his order and a pair of the most incredibly beautiful green eyes looked up from the open menu.  For a brief moment, he just stared at her.

She was mesmerized by his good looks and those eyes.  He looked to be in his mid-thirties.  Her gaze quickly dropped to his left hand to check for a wedding ring and was surprised to see none.  There’s no way that he was unattached yet, here he was alone.  She raised her eyes to his face again and smiled.  “Are you ready to give me your order, Sir?” she asked.

He smiled and her heart melted.  “Yes, thank you,” he said in a proper British accent.  “I’ll have the house salad and the Rib Steak.”

“And to drink?”

“A glass of red wine.”

She took his order, the menu and left.  It was tricky concentrating on the other customers when he was there.  Every time she passed his table, their eyes met.  When his salad was ready, she took it to him, her heart pounding with excitement.  She set it down in front of him, feeling his eyes on her.  She smiled shyly at him before she walked away.

“What is your name?” he asked in French moments later when she took the rib steak to his table.

“Yvette,” she answered.

“Maxwell,” he said.  “How long have you been working here?”

“Since I started going to university.  It helps with my expenses.  I work during the week and in the summer.”

“Are you still in university?”

“Yes. I graduate next year.  Your French is very good,” she added in English.

“Do you live with your parents?”

“No, I share an apartment with another student on Rue de l’Universite near Quai d’Orsay. Your French is very good.”

“Thank you.  So is your English.”

She left him to enjoy his meal.  When he asked for the bill, she was sorry.  She wondered if she would ever see him again.  She took it to him and left him to it.  “I hope you enjoyed your meal,” she said, returning a few minutes later.

He looked up at her.  “I enjoyed both the meal and the service,” he told her, his expression serious.   “I hope you don’t think me impertinent, Yvette, but I was wondering if you would let me take you out for dinner on Saturday, if you don’t have plans.”

She smiled.  “I don’t have any plans,” she said. “I will meet you at the front of the apartment building.”

“I will be there at seven,” he promised as he stood up.  “Au revoir, Yvette.”

“Au revoir, Maxwell.”

On Saturday, he met her outside of the student residence and they went to a popular Creole restaurant where they enjoyed a very pleasant evening together.  Afterwards, they went for a walk along the Seine.  When he took her home, they made plans to see each other again.  They saw each other every day and on the days when she was working at the café, they met after her shift ended.

She didn’t know at what point she had fallen in love with him but she knew that she loved him deeply and hoped that he felt the same way.  She still couldn’t believe that he was attracted to her, a twenty-two year old when he could have any woman he wanted.  These were the misgivings she couldn’t seem to shake so it was a complete shock for her when one night, he proposed to her.

They were standing in front of the Eiffel Tower watching as it lit up when he suddenly dropped to his knee.  She stared at him, her eyes huge.  When he pulled out the box and took out the ring, she began to cry.  After he popped the question, she managed to say yes, and he rose to his feet and cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.  It was the first time they had ever kissed and was far beyond what she had imagined.  Her head was spinning, her heart was racing and her senses were swimming as she kissed him back, oblivious to the stares and smiles of those who passed by or stopped to take photos of the Tower.

A few months later they got married at the Notre Dame Cathedral in a touching ceremony attended by his friends, his cousin Elliot and his wife, Louise, Yvette’s aunt, her room-mate, a few friends from the university, a couple of co-workers and the manager of the café where she worked.  The reception was held at Elliot’s estate.  It was a magical evening which Yvette didn’t want to end.  After the reception, they went to Maxwell’s chateau in Champagne where they spent their first night together as a married couple.

When they reached the master bedroom overlooking the gardens and the gazebo, he opened the door and then picked her up and carried her to the bed which was covered with red rose petals. Moonlight streamed through the windows bathing the bed in its silvery light.  She was a little nervous but he took his time.  And afterwards, she held him as he buried his face in her neck and they drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, they drove to Nice where they spent their honeymoon.  He didn’t take her to Monte Carlo but to St. Paul de Vence and they stayed at the Villa St. Maxime.  From their room, they had a view of the Mediterranean Sea.  It was a magical, entertaining and enjoyable week and she was sorry to leave.  Maxwell promised her that they would return for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

It was one afternoon when they were strolling in the grounds of the chateau in Champagne when Maxwell announced that they were going to London and then to Yorkshire to see his family.  Yvette hid the trepidation that she felt but that evening, she called Louise who had been so warm and friendly towards her at the wedding her and shared her concerns with her.  “What if they don’t like me?”

“It’s very possible that they might not,” Louise told her.  “When Elliot introduced me to his parents and the rest of the family, it was very clear that they didn’t approve of me—for three reasons, I was older than him, divorced and French.  They all treated Elliot as if he had committed a crime and became estranged to him.  The only one who remained loyal and stood by him was Maxwell.  He welcomed me with open arms and reminded me that what really mattered was not what the family thought about me but that Elliot and I loved each other.  It’s the same with Maxwell and you.  I’ve never seen him so happy, Yvette.  You’re good for him.  Don’t let those stuck up ignoramuses make you doubt yourself or question Maxwell’s feelings for you.  It’s as plain as the nose on your face that he is madly in love with you.”

Talking to Louise made her feel better and she felt that she was ready to step into the lion’s den.  So, on the train ride to London she was in better spirits.  A car met them at the station and took them to Yorkshire.

“Has anyone seen my wife?”  The sound of Maxwell’s voice brought her back to the present and pulling herself together, she got up from the chair.  He was in front of the fireplace, looking around at the sea of faces when he spotted her.  “Oh, there you are, darling.”  All eyes followed his gaze to where she stood in the doorway leading out to the terrace.

With her head held high, she walked past the women sitting there and joined him.  She turned to face them, observing with some satisfaction the red faces and the expressions of disconcertment as it dawned on them that she had been on the terrace all that time when they made those unkind remarks about her.

Maxwell put his arm around her waist and drew her closer.  “Some of you have already met Yvette and this afternoon, some of you are meeting her for the first time.  I know it must have come as a surprise to all of you when my parents told you about our marriage.  I never imagined that when I walked into the café that afternoon, I would meet the girl of my dreams.  There she was, standing over me, waiting to take my order.  She took my breath away. My life has not been the same since.  I’m not here to ask for your blessing but I do ask that you show Yvette the same courtesy you would show me.”

When he was finished speaking some of the people in the room got up and went over to greet Yvette and extend warm wishes while others didn’t budge.  Instead, they sat there bristling, determined not to welcome her into their society.  Lord and Lady Cavendish saw their behavior as an affront to them and no longer welcomed them in their home.  It took a while but Yvette’s in-laws finally warmed up to her and by the time Maxwell and she were expecting their first child, she and Lady Cavendish had become very close.

Sources: Erasmusu; Le Petite Cafe; Wikipedia; Kiss Me in Paris; Trip Advisor

Family Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a telephone call.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affairs of the Heart

When Bianca went out on to the balcony of her friend Connie’s spacious flat, she was pleasantly surprised to see Chandler sitting there.  He looked so elegant although he was dressed very casually in a tan colored jacket, denim shirt and jeans.  The brown belt he wore matched the spiffy shoes she saw on the mat by the front door.  He was so handsome, she thought, her eyes eagerly drinking in each feature—the thick, silky dark hair, the incredible light grey eyes, olive skin and his lips…She started when she realized that she was staring.

For his part, he was staring at her too.  “It’s good to see you, Bianca,” he said as he got up and went over to her.  He put his arms around her and hugged her.  She hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in his fragrance.  He smelled so good.  It felt so wonderful being in his arms and held closely against him.  She put hers around his waist and wished that they could stay like that for a long while.  But just then, Connie’s voice reached them and Chandler drew back, releasing Bianca, his expression tense as he looked at her.  He moved away from her and stood leaning against the rail with his hands shoved in his pockets, a muscle pulsating along his jawline as he watched Connie approach.

Bianca sat down in the chair closest to her, her legs trembling.  She had to pull herself together before Connie saw her.  It was a hug between two friends but there was something else.  She felt it and sensed it.  At one point, she felt his arms tighten around her and his face in her hair.  What would have happened if Connie hadn’t been there?

She joined them now, her gaze going immediately to Chandler, her regard for him very evident on her face.  Then she turned to Bianca, her expression changing.  She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me, Bianca realized in surprise.  Perhaps it is because I didn’t call to tell her that I was coming over.

“Bianca, what are you doing here?” she asked.

Bianca got up from the chair, feeling a little embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I didn’t call before I popped over but it was when I was on the tube, that I decided I would stop by your flat and ask you if you wanted to go with me to the Jazz concert in Chelsea.  It’s free and it sounds like fun.”

Connie shook her head at once.  “No thank you, Bianca.  I will pass.  Besides, I have already made plans.  Chandler and I will be spending the afternoon together.”

Chandler spoke up, “The Jazz concert sounds like a good idea.”

Connie pursed her lips.  “Jazz gives me a headache.  I prefer to go somewhere less crowded and I know the perfect place.  Well, Bianca, I guess you had better be heading off to your concert.  Call me later and let me know how it was.”

Bianca got up from the chair, wishing now she hadn’t bothered to come but then, she wouldn’t have seen Chandler.  Her eyes sought him and her heart lurched when she found him looking at her.   She went over to him and said, “It was good seeing you as usual, Chandler.”

“I hope we see each other again soon,” he replied.  And he reached out and caught her hand.  From where Connie stood she couldn’t see what he was doing but it was all Bianca could do to keep her composure.  It was hard when his thumb was caressing the back of her hand, stirring up all sorts of sensations.  The expression on his face made her mouth go dry. His light grey eyes were dark and stormy.  It was so obvious that he was attracted to her.  And it must be obvious to him that she was attracted to him too.  What about Connie?  Her gaze shifted to her friend and was mortified when she saw the hostility and jealousy in her countenance.  Yes, Connie had noticed the attraction between Chandler and her.

“I’d better go,” Bianca murmured looking away.  “I don’t want to be late for the concert.”

He released her hand with some reluctance and watched as she hurried past Connie. They heard the door close.  “You were a bit rude to her,” he said with some displeasure.

Connie glared at him.  “I saw the way you were looking at her,” she cried.  “You want her don’t you?  Well, you are wasting your time.”

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

He grew pale.  “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course, I’m sure.  His name is Darnell.”

Chandler ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair.  “I had no idea,” he said in disbelief.

“Well, now you know.”

Chandler turned away and his hands gripped the rail as bitter disappointment filled him.  He closed his eyes but they soon opened when he saw Bianca’s face and remembered the look on her face when he was caressing her hand.  She could not have been in any doubt that I have feelings for her, he thought, and I could tell that she has feelings for me too but how could I pursue a relationship with her when she’s already in one? What a wretched business this thing called love is. He swung round to face Connie.  “I’m afraid I will have to cancel our plans,” he told her.

Connie stared at him in dismay.  “But, why?” she cried.

“I don’t feel up to going anywhere now,” he said simply.  “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’re cancelling on me because of Bianca?” she demanded.  “I knew her showing up here unexpectedly today was going to be a problem.   Now what am I going to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I’m sorry, Connie.  I’ll take a rain check.”  He walked past her and a few minutes later the door closed behind him.

Her face beet red, Connie marched into the living room, took up a vase of flowers and threw it on the floor.

Bianca sat at the concert, oblivious to the turmoil she was causing elsewhere.  Her mind and attention were not on the smooth sounds she was hearing but on Chandler.  This was the first time Connie and she wanted the same man.   They had been friends since high school but that friendship was in serious jeopardy now.  She would never forget the look on Connie’s face when she saw the attraction between Chandler and her.  Bitter resentment and jealousy marred her features.  She wondered what happened after she left.

She left the concert feeling that it was a waste of an afternoon.  When she got home, she was surprised to hear a message from Connie on her answering machine.  It said, “Well, Bianca, I hope you’re happy.  Chandler canceled our plans.  I can’t imagine why.  I saw the way you were looking at him.  If you want to remain my friend, you will forget about Chandler and set your sights on someone else.  Goodbye.”

Bianca stared at the machine.  All this time she thought Chandler and Connie were spending the afternoon together.  As she removed her jacket, she couldn’t help wondering why the sudden change of plans.  Connie didn’t seem to know or if she did, she wasn’t saying.  Perhaps, something unexpected came up and Chandler had to be somewhere else.  Whatever the reason, she couldn’t deny that she was relieved that they weren’t together now.  I wonder when I will see him again.  Then, she reproached herself for thinking such thoughts.  I must forget about him.  Connie met him first and they are more suitable for each other.  They are from the same pedigree.  I’m way out of my league.  What he feels for me may just be a physical attraction—nothing more.” The thought that his interest in her might just be purely sexual hurt but she had to be sensible about this. 

So that very day, she resolved to stay away from Chandler, not only because Connie requested it but to spare herself any heartbreak.  For the next several weeks, she avoided the usual crowd where she was sure to run into him.  She and Connie met for lunch once and she heard nothing but how much time Chandler and her friend were spending with each other.  She had to sit there and listen to Connie talk about how amazing Chandler looked in his swimming trunks and how wonderful it felt when he put sunscreen on her back.  “His hands felt so good on my skin,” she said, her eyes almost glazed over at the memory.  Bianca smiled but inside she was hurting.  The jealousy stabbed at her like a knife.  After that lunch, whenever Connie wanted them to meet up again, she always found an excuse not to.  She wasn’t going to sit there and listen to Connie talk  incessantly about her relationship with Chandler.

During the day, it was easy to occupy her mind but in the nights, her thoughts were filled with him, wondering if he ever thought about her.  Nothing had changed for her. She still loved and wanted him and it pained her to no end.  She lay awake for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.  How she longed to get away—go somewhere far but she knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.  No place existed where she could go and forget about Chandler.

One night, she was lying on the sofa, watching the television but not paying attention.  It was just background noise.  The doorbell rang and she sat up, wondering how it was.  She hoped it wasn’t Connie.  She really wasn’t in the mood for one-sided conversations.  She got up from the sofa and went to the door.  Her eyes widened and her heart somersaulted when she saw Chandler standing there.  How on earth did he find out where she lived?  It couldn’t have been from Connie.  She would never do that.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door, her heart pounding.  How good he looked in the black shirt and dark blue jeans.  His face looked drawn and it seemed to her that he had lost a little weight.  Alarmed, she asked, “You’re not ill, are you?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not ill,” he told her.  “It’s nice to know that you still care.”

She stared at him, looking confused.  “What do you mean?”

“Each time Connie told me she saw you, I asked if you inquired after me and she said no.”

“She never gave me a chance.  All she talked about was your relationship and all the great things you were doing together.”

“We don’t have a relationship.  I admit that I tried to get forget you with her and she was quite willing to help.  One night at her flat after dinner, we started to get undressed—“

Bianca turned away, agitated.  “I don’t want to hear this,” she cried as the pain and jealousy tore through her.

He moved so that he was standing in front of her, his eyes dark and tormented.  “I thought that making love to her would get you out of my system,” he muttered tightly.  “But, I couldn’t go through with it. When I was kissing her, all I could see was your face.  I put my shirt back on and ran out of there as if the devil were chasing me.  I haven’t been in touch with Connie since.  This was about a month ago.  These past few weeks have been hell for me, Bianca.  I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting you.  I tried to stay away out of respect for Darnell but I had to see you one last time.”

She looked at him then, “Darnell?” she repeated.  “What do mean out of respect for him?”

“You have no idea how much the mere sound of his name torments me,” Chandler told her, his eyes were haunted as they met hers.  “Ever since I found out about him, I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky he is to have an exceptional woman like you.  Many times I have wished that I could trade places with him.”

She was really confused now.  “What are you talking about, Chandler? “

He looked frustrated now.  “I’m talking about Darnell,” he muttered tightly.  “Connie told me about him.”

“What exactly did Connie tell you about my brother?”

He stared at her as if he hadn’t heard correctly.  “Darnell is your brother?”

“Yes.  He’s my older brother who lives in Manchester with his wife, my niece and nephew.  What did Connie tell you about him?”

He muttered something under his breath, his expression thunderous.  “She told me that he was your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend?” she was aghast.  “Why would she do that?”

“No doubt, she did it out of jealousy.  She knew how I felt about you so she wanted to make sure that nothing would come of it.   It never occurred to me that she was lying.  All this time, I thought you were in a relationship and that drove me mad because I wanted you so much.”

“Chandler, is it just desire you feel for me?” she asked warily.

He shook his head and she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he answered, “No.  I feel a deep and consuming love for you, Bianca.  I have never experienced love before but I know that what I feel for you real.”

She reached up and touched his face, her eyes filled with the love which burned in her heart.  “I love you, Chandler.  I tried to get over you because of my friendship with Connie and because I was afraid of getting hurt.  I wasn’t sure that your feelings for me were more than physical.”

He lowered his head to kiss her.  She closed her eyes when she felt his warm lips on hers and her arms went around his waist, holding him closely against her.  They exchanged hungry kisses and then he raised his head to gaze down in her face.  “I love you, Bianca but as much as I am dying to show you how much, I think we should wait.”

She nodded.  “Why don’t we go for a walk in the park,” she suggested.  “It’s safer and it looks lovely outside.”

He smiled.  “Okay.  And we can stop somewhere and have a bit to eat as well.”

A couple weeks later they got engaged and after six months of trying to abstain from lovemaking, they got married.  Connie was not invited.  Bianca’s friendship with her ended the day when she found out about the lie she told Chandler.

They spent their honeymoon in Sorrento.  On the first night there, they went for a walk after dinner, holding hands and strolling through the little streets lined on both sides with shops.  They walked to a quiet spot where they stood watching the silent and looming Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the setting sun as it hovered over the Bay of Naples.  They sat on the bench for a little while just enjoying the pleasant evening and the view.  Then, they bought two gelati and ate them on the way back to the hotel.

As soon as they got back to their room, Chandler picked Bianca up and carried her over to the bed.  “Now, I finally get to show you how much I love you,” he murmured, his eyes darkening on her face.

She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, thinking no one else in the world could be as blissfully happy as she was at that very moment.

 

Living Together

“How long are Cameron and you going to continue living together?” Mrs. Brown asked her daughter, Nara when they were sitting at the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.  Nara was spending the weekend with her family in Manchester.  Her father and brothers had gone on a camping trip.  It was just her mother and her.

Nara shrugged her shoulders.  Every time she saw her mother, she was asked the same question.  “I don’t know,” was the reply she always gave.  She wouldn’t admit that for the past three years, she had asked herself the same question.

“Has he ever said anything about getting married?”

Nara shook her head. “No, he hasn’t.”

“Is he ever going to?  I mean it has been five years since the two you have been dating and three years since you have been living together.  Don’t you think it’s about time that you started thinking about your future?”

“I know that Cameron loves me.”

“Does he love you enough to marry you?”

“I think so…”

“But, you’re not sure.  Honey, I think that it’s time you talked to Cameron about marriage.  Find out once and for all what his plans are.  If he doesn’t want to get married, you need to know that.”

“What if he’s not ready?”

“You can’t continue living with him until he’s ready for marriage.” Her mother reached out and covered her hand.  “I think you should move out.  It’s not right for you to be living with someone who’s not your husband.  I didn’t say anything before because I felt that you were old enough to make your own decisions even if they are wrong and go against what you were taught growing up in a Christian home.  I don’t suppose you go to church anymore.”

Nara shook her head, lowering her eyes unable to return her mother’s penetrating stare.  Instead of going to church on a Sunday morning, she would spend most of it in bed with Cameron.  Surely, the way he made love to her was evident of his love for her.  There were times after their lovemaking, she would just stare at him, thinking how lucky she was to have him in her life.  And he wouldn’t have asked her to move to London with him if he didn’t love her.

“Well, tomorrow, you will come to church with me.  Everyone will be happy to see you.  And don’t worry, no one will ask any prying questions.”

Nara felt nervous about going to church because she had not attended since she and Cameron moved to London.  She didn’t feel right going for that reason.

“I believe that God has a plan for your life,” her mother said.

“I hope Cameron is a part of the plan,” Nara said, “because I love him so much.  I can’t bear have a future without him.”

“I hope so for your sake.  He is a nice young man.  I remember when he used to come over to our house every Sunday after church.  The two of you were inseparable as children.  I always suspected that one day, your feelings for each other would grow into something serious but I never imagined that the two of you would go off to London and live together.   I always thought that you would get married first.   Nara, it’s high time that he makes an honest woman out of you.”

Nara felt the tears spring to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She got up from the table.  “I going to go for a walk,” she said.  “I have a lot to think about.”

The following day, they went to church and the moment she stepped through the doors, she felt such a warm welcome.  She was moved by the beautiful music and the sermon was exactly what she needed to hear.  Afterwards, her mother and she were invited to a member’s home for lunch.  They spent the afternoon with her and then returned to the cottage.

After promising her mother that she would have a serious talk with Cameron about their future and that she would start going back to church, Nara took the train back to London.

Cameron was home she got to the flat.  Something smelled really good.  When he heard the door close, he came out of the kitchen and went over to her, smiling.  “I missed you,” he said, pulling her into his arms and kissing her.

She kissed him back and for several minutes, they eagerly exchanged kisses and then she pulled away to stare up into his flushed face.  “I missed you too,” she said.  She reached up and brushed the strands of hair back from his forehead.  “Something smells really good.”

“I just finished preparing dinner.  I made your favorite.

“You made Chicken Milano,” she said with a smile.  It was then, that she noticed that the table was set with their finest dinnerware.  “What’s all this?” she asked.

“I’ll explain in a little while.  Just have a seat at the table while I get everything ready.”

She opened her mouth to tell him that she had to talk to him about something really important but decided that it could wait until after dinner.  “I’ll take a quick shower and change into something else,” she said and walked away.

When she came back he was just lighting the candles on the table.  She watched him, thinking how handsome he looked in the black shirt and dress jeans.

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure in the floral sundress.  “You look beautiful,” he murmured before he went over and kissed her on the shoulder then he pulled out the chair for her to sit on.  She trembled, feeling the skin tingle where his lips had been.

He sat down and he raised a glass of their favorite non-alcoholic wine in a toast.  “To us,” he said and touched his glass to hers.  His eyes shimmered as they met hers.  “We’ll have the salad first and then the main course,” he said.

Before they began, Nara said a prayer and then tucked into the tasty Caprese salad.  One of the things she loved about Cameron was that he was such an excellent cook.  The Chicken Milano was to die for.  For dessert, they had lemon ice which was very refreshing.   He encouraged her to relax on the sofa while he cleared the table and washed up.

As she sat there, listening to the sound of running water coming from the kitchen, she wondered how she was going to broach the subject that had been on her mind all the train ride from Manchester to London.  She closed her eyes at the thought of it all going terribly wrong.

He joined her just then.  “Did you have a good visit with your family?” he asked.

“Yes.  Dad and my brothers were on a camping trip so it was just Mom and me,” she said.  “I went to church this morning.”

“How was it?”

“I was nervous about going because it had been years since the last time I went but everyone made me feel so welcome.  Some of them asked about you.  They don’t know that we’re living together.”

“Nara, there’s something I want to say to you.  Please bear with me.  I’m a little nervous.”

Her heartbeat accelerated.  Her mind was racing. What did he want to say to her?

He took her hands in his, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “You and I have known each other for years.  We grew up together and have been inseparable since we were children.  My feelings for you changed when we became teenagers but nothing came of it because I went off to Oxford while you remained in Manchester.  We kept in touch through letters and saw each other when I visited during the summer and Christmas holidays.  After I left university, I went to London where I found a job and a flat.  That’s when I sent for you to come and live with me.  I wanted us to be together.  I still do but not like this.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“I don’t want us to continue living together like this,” he said.  He reached into breast pocket of his shirt and took out a little red velvet box.  He opened it and her mouth dropped open when she saw the beautiful diamond ring.  “I have been saving for this ring for the past two years.  The three stones represent the past, present and future.  You and I have experienced the first and the second now I would like us to experience the third.”  He got down on one knee, his eyes tender as they met hers.  “Nara, will you marry me?  Will you spend the rest of your life with me as my wife and not my live-in girlfriend?”

Nara was crying now.  The tears just poured down her face and it took a moment for her to say, “Yes!”

He took the ring out of the box and holding her hand in his, he slipped it on her finger. Then, he reached up and cupped her face, bringing it down so that he could cover her lips in passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured in between the kisses.

She clung to him, kissing him back, her heart filled with joy.  She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell her the news.  God did have a plan for her life and Cameron was a very big part of it.

In the Office

She straightened her desk, brushing off the lingering crumbs from the delicious lemon cake she had brought back with from the restaurant where she had lunch.  It was after seven. Everyone had left.  It was just the two of them.  She wondered if she wait until he came out to tell her she was free to leave or if she should go in and tell him that unless he needed anything else, she was going to take off.  They hadn’t spoken to each other much all day.  She had been down in the dumps because he had spent most of the afternoon behind closed doors with one of their clients.

Jealousy surged through her as she recalled seeing him laughing with the beautiful Nicola Andretti.  She was quite exotic and made her feel plain in comparison.

She had tried to hide her frustration by busying herself in her work but always, her attention was lacking and her gaze would inevitably drift over to the glass panel of his office through which she had a clear view of them.  When they came out of the office, they were laughing and her grip tightened on the pen when she saw Nicola playfully touch Lucas’ arm before she sauntered off.  What on earth does he see in her?  She’s so superficial.  She looked away when his gaze shifted to her before he went back into his office.

Presently, she got up from her desk and walked tentatively to the open doorway.  He was standing at the window, arms folded, looking out.  He turned when he heard her step.  As she went closer to him, she was distracted by the fact that his shirt sleeves were rolled up at the elbows and several buttons were undone, exposing his chest.  She tried to ignore the racing of her pulse and the pounding of her heart.  She could feel his penetrating gaze on her and was afraid to raise her eyes to his face.  But, unable to resist, she did and her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.

“Why are you standing there?” he asked. “Are you afraid to come closer?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I was—I was wondering if you needed anything else before I leave.”

“What I need right now has nothing to do with work.”

“And—and what is that?”

“I need to know who the man was I saw you with.” He was moving away from the window and toward her.  He reminded her of a panther—strong, magnificent and dangerous…

“It was Alan.  He called this morning and asked me out to lunch.”

“You were gone for over an hour.”

“I’m surprised that you noticed that I was gone,” she blurted out before she could stop herself.  “I mean you were so busy with Miss Andretti.”

There was a flicker in his eyes.  “Did it bother you to see us together?” he asked, stopping a few feet away from her.  His hands were in his pockets, drawing her eyes to his well-defined thighs.

She didn’t answer but her expression gave her away.  He went closer.  “Even if you won’t admit it, I will admit that seeing you with Alan bothered me,” he muttered tautly.  “I was insanely jealous.  I could hardly concentrate on my meeting with Nicola.  She didn’t guess what was troubling me but she knew that something was.  I saw when you returned and noted the time.   Believe me, if Nicola were not there, I would have called you into my office and berated you for nearly driving me out of my mind. Instead, I had to sit there and suffer in silence.”

“You didn’t act as if you were suffering.  The two of you were laughing when you came out of your office and I saw the way she flirted with you, touching your arm and you didn’t seem to mind.  I guess it’s because she’s so beautiful.” She couldn’t hide the resentment that stirred in her at the memory.

“You are jealous,” he exclaimed.  He moved closer, his eyes darkening.  “You have no reason to be, Kendra. Nicola may be a very beautiful woman but I’m not attracted to her.  She doesn’t excite me, you do.  You have, since the day you walked into this office.”

She stared at him, hardly able to believe that he was saying these things to her.

“Am I shocking you?” he asked.  “I’m merely telling you the truth.  I wanted you the moment I saw you but I had to keep our relationship professional.  Now, it’s really hard for me to do so.  You have no idea how much I want you right now.”  His dark gaze slid over her slim figure, the raw emotions on his face, making her head spin.  She realized then that she wasn’t wearing her jacket over the violet top with the fine straps.  He reached out now and gently caressed her right shoulder, making her shiver.

She closed her eyes when he bent his head and pressed his lips against the side of her neck. Then, he was kissing her feverishly and her hands went up and buried themselves in his thick hair, gripping it as she responded wildly and with total abandon to his kisses.

This lasted for a long time until she pulled away, panting for air.  “We can’t,” she gasped.  “Not here.”

He nodded, his face flushed and his eyes stormy.  “Not here,” he agreed.  “And not tonight.”  He released her and raked his fingers through his hair.  “It’s getting late.  I’d better take you home.”  He went over to his desk.  He rolled down his shirt sleeves and buttoned them and the top buttons and then pulled on his jacket.

She turned and went to her desk, her legs trembling.  With shaking hands, she put on her jacket and got her handbag.   He stepped out of his office and locked the door.  She followed him to the lift, still dazed and tingling all over from what happened a few moments ago.

In the car, he didn’t say anything at first but when they were pulling out of the parking lot, he said, “Have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Now that you and I are going to be seeing each other outside of the office, it wouldn’t be presumptuous of me to ask that you don’t have lunch with Alan or any other man, would it?”

She shook her head.  “And it wouldn’t be forward of me to ask that you don’t let Nicola or any other woman get touchy feely with you, would it?”

He grinned.  “No, it wouldn’t be.”  He reached over and kissed her long and hard on the mouth before he drove out on to the street.

 

The Studio

“You don’t have to be a genius to see that this relationship will not last,” commented Marie as she and Caitlin sat in the corner of a trendy restaurant in the fashionable district of Chelsea.  It was celebratory dinner party for the opening of Ava’s boutique in the area.  She had invited Marie, her sister-in-law who had in turn invited Rachel.  They were sitting having non-alcoholic drinks after a delicious dinner while the others were on the dance floor.

Marie’s remark was directed at Ava and her boyfriend, Reid, a businessman/artist.  They had been dating for less than a year now.  They were dancing but he seemed a bit uncomfortable.   Clearly, he didn’t like the public display of affection but Ava didn’t seem to care.  This was her way of letting the other women know that he was not available.

As Rachel watched them, she couldn’t deny that they made a very attractive couple.  Ava had thick dark brown hair that tumbled down in unruly waves down her tanned back.  She looked absolutely stunning in the strapless fuchsia dress.  Several male eyes were on her but she only had eyes for Reid.  Rachel’s gaze shifted to Reid.  He was tall and very attractive.  He looked amazing in the navy blue striped suit, navy blue shirt and matching tie.  His thick dark brown hair was neatly combed as usual.

She remembered the first time she met Reid.  It was at a mutual friend’s place.  It was early autumn and as she came out of the cottage to go for a walk in the gardens, she noticed him standing among stalks of wheat which seemed rather out of place to her.  She expected the grounds to be covered in green grass and surrounded by trees with changing colors.  He was wearing a blue sweater over a checkered shirt and dark blue trousers.  He didn’t notice her at first as she stood there just staring at him and thinking that he was drop dead gorgeous.  Then, he turned his head slightly to the right and their eyes met.

Then, he went over to her, his eyes never leaving her face.  She was wearing a black and white striped shirt and black pants.  She hoped her hair looked fine.  He held out his hand.  “Hello, I’m Reid,” he said.

She smiled as he clasped her hand.  “Rachel.”  After he released her hand, she folded her arms.  She saw the way his eyes slipped over her before they settled on her face again.

“Do you have a jacket?” he asked.  “It’s a bit cool today.”

“It’s inside with my handbag,” she said. “I came out to go for a walk and forgot how cool it was.  I’ll go quickly and get it.”  She went back to the house and when she went back, he was standing where she had left him.

“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.

She shook her head, smiling.  “I would like the company,” she said.

“Did you come alone?”

“Yes,” she turned to look at him as they headed for the gardens.  “Did you?”

“I came with Ava.”

“Ava Parker?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know her?”

“Not very well.  She’s my friend Marie’s sister-in-law.”

“Yes, I have met Marie.  A very pleasant woman.”

As they walked he asked her questions about herself.  She learned that he met Ava at a gallery where his artwork was on display.  She suddenly stopped and stared at him.  “Are you Reid Faulkner?” She asked.

He nodded with a smile.

“I’ve seen some of your paintings and they are amazing.  They are so real.  My favorite so far is of the homeless young girl.  You did it in black and white.  It was beautiful and haunting at the same time.  It’s now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London.”

“I like to paint about current issues,” he said.  “I’m more into realism than the other forms of art like impressionism and romanticism.”

“You captured the sadness in her eyes, the dirty fingernails and the hopelessness of her situation.  Whatever became of her?”

“She’s in a homeless shelter for the youth now.  When she learned that her portrait was in the gallery, she was over the moon.”

“That’s great.  How do you do it—your painting, I mean?”

“I sketch and then, I paint.  I don’t have to have the person pose for me.”

They continued walking and then they decided to head back to the cottage.  When they got there, Ava was waiting in front and as soon as she saw them, she hurried over to Reid.  “There you are,” she exclaimed, slipping her arm in his.  “I was wondering where you had gone off to.  Oh, hello, Rachel,” she said, her green eyes shifting to her and pursing her lips.  The displeasure on her face was unmistakable.  She tugged gently on Reid’s arm.  “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.  Excuse us, Rachel.”

Reid barely got to give Rachel a backward glance before he was whisked away.  They hadn’t had a moment alone after that.  Ava saw to that.  However, she couldn’t prevent them from looking at each other every opportunity they got and on her way home, Rachel couldn’t stop thinking about Reid and how much she wanted to see him again.  And couple months later, here they were in a Chelsea restaurant.

She turned now to Marie who was looking at her.  “You were somewhere else for a bit,” she said.

“I was just remembering something,” she said evasively.  “Why don’t you think their relationship will last?”

“She’s too clingy and men don’t like that.  They don’t like to be smothered.  Besides, I don’t think he’s as into her as she’s into him.  It’s all in the body language, my dear.  Look at him.  The dance is over and he looks relieved.  Why don’t we invite them to join us?”  She waved at the couple as they parted and were heading back to their table.

Rachel’s eyes went immediately to Reid and her heart began to beat fast.  She smoothed her hair down and rubbed the palms of her hands on the skirt of her blue elastic waist dress.  Reid’s gaze went first to Marie and then to Rachel where they remained.  Ava noticed and said, “Why don’t we go over to the bar and sit there or outside on the terrace where it’s a lot cooler?”

At that moment, Marie got up from her seat and said to Ava, “Why don’t we go and freshen up?” and she grabbed her arm and escorted her away before she could object.

Alone, Reid sat down beside Rachel.  “It’s good to see you again,” he said quietly.  “I was hoping that we would meet again.  How have you been?”

She smiled and tried to act calm although she was nervous.  He was staring at her, his expression was intense.  “It’s good to see you again, too,” she admitted, sounding a bit breathless.  “I’m happy to see you and I’ve been doing well.”

“Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?” he asked.

“No.”

“I’d like you to come over to my studio,” he said.  He took out his wallet and removed a business card.  He scribbled something at the back of it and handed it to her.  As she read the name and address of the studio, he added, “I’d like to paint you.”

She glanced up in surprise.  “Paint me?” she exclaimed.  “But why should you want to paint me?”

“You’re beautiful,” he said simply.  “I want to capture that beauty.”

“I’m not sure,” she said, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.  “I’ve never had such a proposition before.” He thinks I’m beautiful.

“Think about it.  I will look out for you tomorrow.  If I don’t see you, I’ll know that you decided not to do it and although, I will be disappointed, I will understand.”

“Thank you,” she said and she put the card in her handbag.  She didn’t feel pressured now.

“If you like, you can still come to my studio just to see my work.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

He smiled and just then, Ava and Marie joined them.  Ava’s eyes flashed at Rachel.

Marie said to Rachel, “I think we should leave now,” she said.  “It’s getting late and I have a busy day tomorrow with the hubby and kids.  Ava, congratulations on your new business venture.  I’ve no doubt that it will be a great success.  Reid, as always it is a pleasure to see you.”

Rachel got up and came round the table so that she was standing next to Reid.  She could feel his eyes on her.  She said goodnight first to Ava whose expression was hostile and then she turned to Reid, holding out her hand.  He took it and her pulse raced when she felt him squeeze it gently.  Their eyes held for a brief moment and then she turned and walked away.

On their way to her car, Marie remarked, “There’s something going on between Reid and you.  I sensed it and I know Ava did too, that’s why she didn’t want to leave the two of you alone.  So, what did he say to you?”

“He invited me to go to his studio tomorrow.  He wants to paint me.”

“Wow, that’s a great compliment.  I wish I had an artist ask to paint me.  Well, are you going to do it or not?”

“I’m not sure…”

“I think you should do it.  It might be fun and besides, it gives the two of you a chance to be alone.”

“But, what about Ava?”

“Ava’s history.  I won’t be surprised if he breaks up with her tonight.”

“I don’t want to be the cause for their breakup.”

“It would have happened even if you weren’t in the picture.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Ava’s not the right woman for Reid.  And that’s a fact that’s clear to everyone, except her, unfortunately.”

Rachel sighed.  “She already doesn’t like me and now I’m giving her a good reason to hate me.”

“Don’t worry about Ava,” Marie advised her.  “She’ll get over Reid in time.”

Rachel thought about it as she lay in bed that night and by morning, she had decided that she would go to the studio.  It was on a quiet street and located on the second floor of a warehouse.  The door was open and she went in.  There was an easel with a blank sheet of paper on it.  Framed paintings stacked against the walls.  Bright light effused the spacious room.  She could smell the paints and she smiled as she looked around.  It was such a treat being in an artist’s studio and seeing his work.  There were a couple of floor lamps, chairs, a stool and a table with the paints.

As she was studying and admiring the paintings on the wall adjacent to the windows, Reid came in.  He smiled when he saw her.  “Hello,” he said.  “I’m glad you came.  I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding the place.”

She turned toward him, thinking how sexy he looked in the black shirt and blue jeans.  “No, I didn’t have any trouble finding it.  It’s a really nice with lots of natural light.  I was just admiring your work.  Some of them, I recognized.  Has Ava ever been here?”

“Once.  Would you like something to drink?”

She shook her head.  “Not right now, thanks.”

“So, what have you decided?”

“I’ve decided to let you paint me.”

He grinned, rubbing his hands together.  “Splendid.  Now, all you have to do is sit on the stool over there and try not to move.  You can set your handbag and jacket on the chair over there.  Thanks for agreeing to do this, Rachel.”

She did as he instructed and climbed up on the stool.  As she sat down, she was glad that she had worn jeans instead of the long black skirt with the side slit.  She watched as he mixed the paints and then stood behind the easel and got to work.  After two hours of not moving, she was relieved when he set his brush down and stepped from behind the easel.

“We’re done for today,” he said.

She slid down from the stool and stretched.  “How long will it take to complete?” she asked.

“Two weeks.  You don’t have to sit every time because I know you’re busy.  I have a sketch that I can work from.”

“I can come in the evenings after work,” she offered.

“That would be great.  Are you hungry?”

She nodded.

“There’s a bistro around the corner where we can have something to eat or we can order take out delivery and eat here.  Which would you prefer?”

“Take out.”

They had Thai food delivered to them and they sat cross legged on the floor, eating and talking.  It was dark outside by the time they left the studio.  Before they parted, they arranged to meet again at the studio the following day.  For two weeks, she went to the studio and sat for two hours as he painted her.  Finally, the day came when she would see the finished painting.  Excited, she let herself into the studio and closed the door.

She went over to the chair to put her jacket on it when Reid came into the room.  She turned and her breath caught in her throat when she saw that he was not wearing a shirt.  It was in his hand.  He stopped short when he saw her.  “You’re early,” he commented as he pulled it on but didn’t button it.  He went over to where she stood.  Flustered, she turned away.

She felt his hands on her shoulders turning her around to face him.  Their eyes met and what she saw in his made her mouth go dry.  Desire shone in their depths.  “Rachel,” he muttered huskily.  “You must know by now how I feel about you.”

The feelings churning inside her were on her face.  “What about Ava?” she asked, trying not to look at his chest.

“I ended my relationship with her that night at the restaurant.  She blamed you.  She saw the attraction between us that night.  I told her that I would have ended our relationship even if you and I had not met.  I told her that we were not right for each other.  I felt badly about it but I couldn’t continue pretending that everything was fine when it wasn’t.”

“I feel sorry for her but, I can’t say that I’m sorry that you’re available now…”

“Oh, Rachel…” he moaned before he lowered his head and kissed her.  She kissed him back, her arms going around his neck as she pressed against him.  The sunlight flooded the room, bathing them in its warmth as they exchanged passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured against her lips.

“I love you too,” she whispered.  She had loved him that day when she saw him standing there among the wheat, looking like he just had stepped out of the pages of GQ.

Several hours later, he unveiled the painting and her mouth dropped open when she saw.  Moved to tears, she said, “It’s beautiful.”

His eyes were tender as he looked at her.  “That’s how I see you,” he said quietly. “You’re beautiful within and without.  This painting is going to be for my private viewing.  It’s not going to be placed in any gallery.”

“Good,” she said, putting her arms around his waist.  “I don’t relish the idea of hanging in public for everyone to gawk at me.  Both the painting and I are for your eyes only.” And with that, she reached up and kissed him.

woman and man in standing

Sources:  End Youth HomelessnessReitman’s; Social Lifestyle Magazine; Albert’s Club