Saved by Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God – Ephesians 2:8

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Scala Sancta (Pilate’s Staircase) in Rome

Years ago I stood watching people ascend what is commonly known as Pilate’s Staircase.  Just today my family and I were talking about it and I got emotional as I thought of the people I saw going up the stairs on their knees just as Martin Luther did in 1510, probably repeating as he did the Our Father on each step.  It was said that by doing this work one could “redeem a soul from purgatory.”  It is believed that this staircase, Scala Sancta, that was used by Jesus in Pilate’s Judgment Hall in Jerusalem was, according to legend, supernaturally transported from Palestine to Rome.

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Figures of Pilate and Jesus at base of Scala Sancta

At the base of the staircase are the statues of Jesus and Pilate.  Pilate is introducing the King of the Jews to the people and saying, “Behold the Man!”  This reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14, 15).  By beholding the serpent, the people were saved by faith.  Likewise by beholding Jesus and believing in Him, we are saved.  

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Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther in the movie, Luther

It was here on the Scala Sancta that the unexpected happened for Martin Luther.  It was where his eyes were opened to the truth that salvation comes by the grace of God and not by works.  One day, “he was devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him:  ‘The just shall live by faith.’  Romans 1:17.  He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror.  The text never lost its power upon his soul.  From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy in trusting to human works for salvation, and the necessity of constant faith in the merits of Christ.  His eyes had been opened, and were never again to be closed, to the delusions of the papacy.  When he turned his face from Rome, he had turned away also in heart, and from that time the separation grew wider, until he severed all connection with the papal church.” 

Before his revelation, “Luther was still a true son of the papal church and had no thought that he would ever be anything else. In the providence of God he was led to visit Rome.”  However, once he received the unvarnished truth, Luther could no longer remain loyal to the church which promised indulgences to those climbing the staircase on their knees or whose clergy he found profanation instead of sanctity.  His disillusionment with the church led to his part in the Protestant Reformation.  He was declared a heretic and excommunicated from the church.

In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders trusted in the traditions of men instead of the Word of God.  Today, where are you placing your faith?  In the teachings of men or in the teachings of God?

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Great Controversy; Wikipedia

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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

Tamed

“Channing is back in town,” Sheila announced, rubbing her hands together in glee.

Alanna frowned.  “Who’s that?”

“He’s Fletcher’s older brother, the wild one.  Many women have tried to tame him but to no avail.  His mother has given up all hope that he’d ever settle down and get married.  He’s quite a catch, mind you–drop dead gorgeous.  Wait until you see him.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He’s been on a world cruise from Los Angeles to London.  He just came back.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Fletcher mention him.  Is there bad blood between them?”

“No. They get along well enough.  I heard that Fletcher’s wife, Daphne had her eye on Channing but he wasn’t interested in her so she turned her attentions to Fletcher.”

“That’s terrible.  Does Fletcher know?”

“No.  She had decided that it would best for everyone that he shouldn’t.”

“What about Channing?  Why didn’t he say something?”

“He tried to but Fletcher was so besotted by the dazzling Daphne that he didn’t want to hear anything unsavory about her.  So, Channing gave up and the two got married a couple of months later in a big and extravagant wedding.”

“Does Daphne still have feelings for Channing?”

“I don’t know.  It wouldn’t do her any good if she does. Anyway, Mrs. Beauchamp is throwing a welcome home party for Channing and we have been invited.”

“When is it?”

“Saturday evening at 7.  There will be a buffet dinner and dancing.  It promises to be a very fun but elegant affair.  Do you have an evening gown?”

“An evening gown?” Alanna repeated, looking alarmed.  “No.”

“Nor do I.  Tomorrow at lunch, you and I will go shopping at this place where they sell the most fabulous gowns.”

Alanna was beginning to feel nervous now.  She had never been to such an elaborate affair and felt that she would be out of place.  As if sensing her trepidation, Sheila gave her a reassuring smile.  “Don’t worry, Lana.  You’ll be fine.  I’ve been to these types of social affairs before.  Just follow my lead.”

For the rest of the day, Alanna thought about the party and the next day, she felt a twinge of excitement as she went with Sheila to the dress shop in Chelsea.  She managed to find a gown within her budget.  It was.   When she tried it on, Sheila whistled.  “What a lovely gown,” she exclaimed.  “It’s perfect for you.  What do you think of mine?”

“It’s beautiful, Sheila.  It looks like it was made for you.”

After they left the shop with their gowns, they popped into another store to buy shoes and matching handbags.  By the time they got back to the office, Alanna was really excited and looking forward to the party.  Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.

It was during the summer so the sun was still bright and shining when they arrived at the impressive mansion.  As Alanna stepped out of the taxi, she looked up at the Georgian façade.  It was magnificent and imposing.  It reminded her of Mr. Darcy’s residence in Pride and Prejudice.  And the grounds, from what she could see, seem to stretch for miles.

As she went up the steps, she looked at the other women in their gowns.  They were of many colors, styles, some simple, some showy and others sophisticated.  She was quite pleased with the one she was wearing and smiled as she caught a few curious looks from the women and admiring glances from the men.

Inside there were more gowns and more people.  She looked around her, taking in the décor.  At the entrance to the room where the guests were to assemble stood Mrs. Beauchamp, Fletcher and Daphne.  As she followed Sheila through the archway, a tall and rather handsome man joined them.  “That’s Channing,” she whispered.  “Didn’t I tell you that he’s gorgeous?”

Alanna was greeted warmly by Mrs. Beauchamp, a petite and very regal woman in the shimmering and beaded white gown that matched her white hair swept back in a chignon.  Fletcher shook her hand enthusiastically and said that he was delighted to see her while Daphne gave her a more reserved acknowledgement.  She was a very attractive woman. Tall with auburn hair that was pulled back in a French knot and the ice blue gown she wore suited her rather well.  Then, her gaze went to Channing.  He was chatting with Sheila who turned to her and said, “This is my friend, Alanna.”

He turned to Alanna and she felt her heart melt.  Unusual but incredibly beautiful blue eyes met hers and they seemed to penetrate her soul.  Handsome was not adequate a word to describe him.  He was beyond handsome.  She had never seen a man with his physical looks in her life.  It was as if he were not real but existed in her imagination.  Thick black hair framed a face with fine features.  He looked chic and sexy at the same time in the white dinner jacket, white shirt, black trousers and black tie.  He took her outstretched hand and raised it to his lips, his eyes never leaving her face.  “A pleasure to meet you, Alanna,” he said as he released her hand.

Alanna blinked, her skin tingling where he kissed.  For a mad moment, her gaze lowered to his mouth, wondering if it felt as good as it looked and then, she caught herself and looked away.  “I’m—I’m pleased to meet you too,” she stammered.

Sheila chimed in. “It’s good to see you, Channing.  We look forward to hearing about your vacation.  When you can tear yourself away from your guests, come and join us.”  She took Alanna’s arm and pulled her away.  As they made their way to the cocktails, Sheila said to Alanna, “He seemed quite taken with you.”

Alanna was still remembering every detail of his countenance and the feel on his lips on her hand.  She wondered if the feelings he stirred inside her were evident on her face.  “You weren’t exaggerating when you spoke of his looks,” she acknowledged.

“I saw the way you looked at him.  You’re quite taken with him too.  Aren’t you glad you came now?  You would have missed out on what promises to be a very interesting night.  Now, that you’ve found your Prince Charming, I shall look for mine.  I hope he’s here and I hope it will take as little effort to find him as it took you to find yours.  They say it’s when you’re not looking that you find him so maybe, I shouldn’t look.  Instead, I’ll just stand here and look good.”

They stood there sipping their cocktails and then it was time to have dinner.  The table was arrayed in dishes upon dishes of eye pleasing and mouthwatering delicacies from Europe, Asia and South America.  They managed to find two chairs where they sat and enjoyed the food.  Afterwards, there was a toast to Channing, welcoming him back home after being away for so long.  He gave a brief thank you speech and then they had dessert.

It was when Sheila and Alanna were returning from freshening up in the washroom when Channing and a friend joined them.  He introduced his friend who seemed to have eyes only for Sheila who liked what she saw too.  While they were busy admiring each other, Channing took Alanna’s hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “Dance with me,” he said and before she could say anything, he started walking toward the dance floor, taking her with him.

The music was salsa and as they moved to it, their eyes were locked.  It was as if they were the only two people there—everyone else had faded into the background.  They were oblivious to the attention they were drawing to themselves.  All she was aware of was his hand in the small of her back, his smoldering eyes on her and the seductive movement of his hips as they moved in one fluid movement on the dancefloor.  When it was over, they stood still for a long moment, staring at each other, not hearing the smattering of applause around them.  Then, taking her hand, he led her off the dancefloor.  Instead of returning to where they had left Sheila and his friend, he was heading in another direction.  “Where’re we going?” she asked breathlessly.

“I thought you might like to come with me for a walk,” he said.  “It was getting a little hot in there.  A breath of fresh air would do us some good.”

Once they were outside, he released her hand and they walked side by side over the sprawling grounds.  The sun was setting and the immaculate lawns were bathed in the golden light.  “What a beautiful place this is,” Alanna remarked.  “What was it like growing up here?”

“It was fine,” he shrugged.  “After a while, though, I became restless and wanted to venture out into the world.  Before I went to University, I went away for the summer.  I travelled with my friends to Asia.  We visited India, China.  I caught the traveling bug and each summer while I was in university, I would fly off to a different part of the world.  After university, I got a job and moved into my own flat.  I have stayed put for these past years but I got restless again and decided to take a long vacation and travel to other parts of Europe.  And here I am back in England.”

“Until you get restless again,” she said looking at him and her heart leapt when she saw the expression on his face.

“I don’t think I’ll be getting restless again,” he said.  “Not after meeting you.”  He reached out and held her hand, his fingers lacing hers.  “Do you have a boyfriend?”

She swallowed hard.  “No,” she said, shaking her head.  The feel of his warm palm against hers was very stimulating and distracting.

“I want to see you again,” he said quietly.  “Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?”

Again she shook her head.

“Good.  I’d like to take you out for dinner and then dancing afterwards.”

That sounded good.  They continued walking.  “Which places did you visit this time?”

“I visited the South Pacific, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.”

“What were your favorite places?”

“New Zealand, Thailand, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Portugal.”

“Did you see any beautiful women in these places?”

“Yes, I did.  But they pale in comparison to you.  Tell me about you, your family.”

They walked over to a bench and sat down.  She told him about herself and her family, thinking how dull their lives seemed in comparison to his.  He was very attentive.  They talked about other things and then it was time to return to the party.  It was after mid-night when it began to die down and people were starting to leave.  Channing made sure that Sheila and Alanna got a ride home from his friend who was very obliging because it gave him more time to get acquainted with Sheila.  Alanna gave Channing her address and phone number before they bade each other goodbye.  She was looking forward to seeing him the following evening.

On the ride home, she sat in the back of the car, dreaming of him and wondering what she was going to wear for their date.  She lay in bed, her mind spinning and it was after two when she eventually drifted off to sleep.  The day couldn’t go by fast enough and then it was evening.  He showed up promptly at seven-thirty.  He looked amazing in his black jacket, black silk shirt and black dress jeans and she could tell that he liked the dress she was wearing.  They could hardly take their eyes off each other.  They went to a popular Cuban restaurant where after an excellent dinner, they enjoyed listening and dancing to live salsa music.  It was a fun evening.  Neither wanted it to end.

They began seriously dating after that first date.  Then, one afternoon when they were having a picnic in the park near where she lived, he said to her, “You have succeeded in doing what many other women have tried to do but failed.  You’ve tamed me.”  He reached in to his shirt pocket and pulled out a little black box.  Her eyes grew big and her hand flew up to her mouth when he opened it and showed her the exquisite ring inside.   She didn’t realize that she was crying until he reached out and brushed the tears from her cheeks.  He raised himself up on one knee and took her hand.  “Alanna Campbell, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Will you do me the honor and marry me?”

“Yes,” she cried.  After he put the ring on her finger, she reached up and pulled him down, hugging him tightly.  “I love you and I will marry you, Channing Beauchamp.”  And she showered his face with kisses.  She didn’t care that people were passing by and watching them.  She was on top of the world.

Sources:  Casa CubaViking Cruises Canada

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.

The Engagement Party

It was her friend Zoe’s engagement party and it was being held at Lord’s The Home of Cricket.  It was a beautiful venue.  Dinner was to be held in the elegantly furnished and intimate Writing Room.  On the walls hung paintings of cricketing scenes such as an imaginary game between England and Australia watched by high society ladies and gentlemen.  From there one could see the views of the Ground from the north end of the Pavilion.  However, neither of these things held her interest.  All she could see was him.

She stood against the wall watching him now.  He was talking to a couple.  She had noticed him the moment he walked in.  He was easily the most handsome man in the entire room.  Tall, slender with thick black hair dressed in an expensive looking black suit, white shirt and black tie, he looked very stylish.  He probably wouldn’t even notice me, she thought.

Just then, he looked up and their eyes met.   Her heart skipped a beat.  She wanted to look away but couldn’t.  She saw him say something to the couple and then he was walking toward her.  By now her heart was pounding heavily and her breath quickened.  As he approached she saw his eyes travel over her.  She was wearing a red ankle length dress which flattered her with red strappy low heel sandals and her hair was swept up in a pile of curls on top of her head.

He was standing in front of her now and this close he was even more striking.   He had exquisite brown eyes which were riveted on her face.  “Hello,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Cole.”

She put her hand in his and his fingers enclosed hers in a warm handshake.  “Stephanie.”

“Are you here alone?” he asked.  He was staring at her and she could see the admiration in his eyes.

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Are you Gary’s friend or Zoe’s?”

“Zoe’s.  She and I have been the best of friends since we attended university together.  I’m her maid of honor.”

“I’m her uncle.”  He smiled when he saw her surprised look.  “I get the same reaction from other people.”

He looked rather young to be Zoe’s uncle.  He was most likely in his late thirties which meant that he was a child himself when she was born.  All of her uncles were old enough to be her father.  She wondered what Zoe would say if she knew that she was attracted to hers.  Right now she was captivated by him.  “Zoe mentioned that you’re giving her away.”

“Yes.  Her father, my older brother died two years ago.”

“It’s a pity that he couldn’t be here.  Zoe has told me so much about him.  They seemed very close.”

“Yes, they were.  You’re very beautiful,” he said suddenly, startling her.  His expression was serious.

She swallowed hard, her eyes wide as they met his.  His thumb was caressing the back of her hand causing all sorts of tingling sensations in her.  “Th-thank you,” she managed to say.

“I see you’ve met my dear Uncle Cole,” Zoe’s voice said over his shoulder and he released Stephanie’s hand.

They turned to the smiling redhead who looked radiant in her gold lace maxi dress.  “I was going to introduce you but I see you have beaten me to it.  Isn’t he handsome?” she asked Stephanie, with a twinkle in my eyes.  “I think all of my girlfriends had a crush on him.”

“You’re exaggerating as usual,” Cole said to her.  “Are you having a good time?”

“I’m having a wonderful time, thanks to you and Mother.  They took care of all the arrangements,” she explained to Stephanie.

“It’s a wonderful venue,” Stephanie agreed.  “After dinner I would like to take a walk in the grounds.”  Cole glanced at her when she said that.

“Well, now it’s time to have dinner,” Zoe said.  “The two of you are sitting at my table.”  She slipped an arm in each of theirs and walked with them to the Writing Room.  Stephanie sat between Cole and Zoe.  Dinner was superb.  Afterwards there was dancing.  Stephanie watched as Zoe and Gary danced, thinking how romantic they looked.  Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around.  It was Cole.  He bent down and said in her ear, “Do you still want to take a walk on the grounds?” She nodded.  He straightened up and she got up from the table.

It was a warm evening and still bright.  Cole took her first to the cricket ground where the stands were and then to see the W.G Grace Statue.  “Who’s this?” she asked marveling at the sculpture.

“It’s W.G. Grace.  He was an English amateur cricketer who was important in the development of cricket.  He is considered to be one of the sport’s greatest players.  He played first class cricket for a 44 seasons.  He came from a family of cricketers.”

“Does it look like him?”

“Yes, it’s a remarkable likeness.”

“Are you a cricket fan?”

He shook his head.  “No. I’m more partial to soccer and rugby.  My father, however, was a cricket player and was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club, owner of the Lord’s Ground.”

“It’s really nice out here,” she said.  “Do you mind if we sit for a bit on one of the benches over there?” To be honest, she wanted to rest her feet for a bit.  They were starting to feel sore because of the heels.  She was not used to doing a lot of walking in them and they were still fairly new.

“Not at all,” he said and they went over to one of the benches and sat down.  She was facing forward while he was turned towards her with his arm resting along the back of the bench.  “You know, it feels strange being alone with you like this,” he commented after a moment of silence passed.

She turned to look at him.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  She enjoyed being here alone with him and wished that they could stay there for a long time.

“I’m at least ten years older than you.  I’m deeply attracted to you and you’re my niece’s friend.”

Her pulse began to race.  “I’m twenty-six,” she said.  “How old are you?”

“Thirty-nine.  I will be forty in September.”

“There’s not that much of an age difference between us,” she said.

“It feels strange being attracted to a girl who’s the same age as my niece.”

She got up and looking down at him, she told him, “I’m not a girl.  I’m a woman and I know what I want.”  She saw his expression darken and then, he was up on his feet and pulling her roughly against him.

“And I know what I want,” he muttered before he kissed her passionately, his lips almost devouring hers.  And her arms went up and encircled his neck.  She pressed closer against him as she responded to the onslaught of his kisses.

There they stood for a long while exchanging hungry kisses before he raised his head to gaze down at her, breathing heavily, his eyes dark and stormy and his face flushed.  “We’d better go back before they start to wonder where we are,” he said.

Fighting to catch her breath, she could only nod and he released her.  On trembling legs she walked back to the party with him.  Before they went inside, he paused to look at her.  “When can I see you again?” he asked huskily.

“Any time you want,” she said.  How she longed to kiss him again.

“Good,” he said with a slight smile before he reached out and caressed her cheek with his knuckles.  Before they parted company, she wrote down her phone number and address on the back of his business card and gave it to him.  He thanked her as he put it in his breast pocket.  He joined his mother and other guests while she joined Zoe and their other friends.

It was after mid-night when she left the party.  She got a ride home with a friend.  Before she left, she went over to Cole and said goodnight to him, his mother and the people with them.  She tried to be discreet where he was concerned and so she could only afford to give him a brief glance before walking away.  He watched her go, his expression drawn and a muscle throbbing along his jaw-line.

Weeks passed and she didn’t hear from him.  By the third week she was heartbroken.  Zoe kept asking her what was wrong when they met to fit on the dresses for the wedding but she assured her that she was fine.  She didn’t want to upset her friend.  Why hasn’t he gotten in touch with me?  The wedding was in two weeks.  What was she going to do when she saw him then?  Act as if nothing had happened between them?  Act as if everything was all right when her heart was breaking?  How she ached for him.  She spent sleepless nights, thinking about him and wondering why he hadn’t called or visited her.

It was the night before the wedding and she was feeling terrible.  How she wished she didn’t have to go but how could she not?  Zoe was counting on her being there as her friend and as her maid of honor.  She couldn’t let her down.  But how was she going to face Cole?  What if he showed up with a date?  That would be devastating, to say the least.  She wouldn’t be able to hide her distress and everyone would know that she was in love with him.

She got up from the sofa and went over to the window to look at the flickering lights of London.  He was out there somewhere, she thought.  Was he alone or was he with a woman?  She closed her eyes as fierce jealousy tore through her.  She pressed her head against the cool window pane as the tears ran down her cheeks.

Her eyes flew open when she heard the doorbell.  She moved away from the window, wiping her eyes in her tee shirt.  She looked through the keyhole and her breath caught in her throat.  She quickly pulled back the latch and tugged open the door, her eyes eagerly slipping over Cole’s tall frame.  He was wearing a navy blue suit and a checkered shirt.  Unable to help herself, she reached out and pulled him inside.  She closed the door, locked it and leaned against it, her chest heaving.

He turned to stare at her, his expression drawn.  “I couldn’t stay away,” he muttered thickly.  “I tried to but I just couldn’t stay away from you.”

“But, why did you want to stay away from me?” she asked, bewildered.  “I thought you wanted to see me again.  You said so at the engagement party.”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again so badly but our age difference kept bothering me.”

“I don’t care about the age difference,” she told him angrily.  “I want to be with you, Cole.  And I know that you want to me with me.  That’s why you’re here now.  Have you any idea how miserable I’ve been these past weeks, wondering why I haven’t heard from you?”

“Many times, I wanted to call you or stop by but I managed to convince myself it would be better if I didn’t get in touch.”

“Better for whom?” she was beside herself now.  The emotions were just pouring out now and the hot tears were spilling down her cheeks.  She was angry at him and she began to pummel at his chest.  “How could breaking my heart be better for me?”

His eyes darkened and his eyes were filled with pain.  “I’m sorry,” he said as he caught her fists and held them firmly.  “I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me, Stephanie.  Please forgive me for being such a fool.”

She calmed down and he released her hands which fell at her sides.  He reached up and cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away the tears.  Her eyes met his and the emotion in them made him groan.  He lowered his head and kissed her.  Moaning, she closed her eyes and kissed him back, her arms wrapping themselves tightly about his waist.

After several minutes, he broke off the kiss to look into her eyes.  “I love you,” he muttered huskily.  “I love you so much.”

Fresh tears sprang to her eyes.  “I love you too,” she whispered.

“Will you go to the wedding with me tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yes, I would love to but everyone will know that you and I…”

“I don’t care,” he declared.  “They will find out soon enough.”

“What about Zoe?”

“It may take some time but she’ll get used to her uncle dating her best friend.  Do you have any more objections?”

She shook her head.

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

 

Source:  Lord’s the Home of Cricket; Wikipedia; MCC;

The Ball

Monica was walking on the immaculate grounds of Whitmore Manor where her friend and co-worker Alex invited her to spend the afternoon.  It was the day before the annual charity ball and already there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.  This was to be her first one since she only started working with Alex in autumn of last year.

As she pondered over what to expect, her gaze drank in the beautiful landscape which spread before and around her.  She was so caught up in her surroundings that she didn’t notice the tall man heading towards her until she almost ran into him.

Her eyes flew up from his broad chest to his face.  Her breath caught in her throat when she found herself looking into classic handsome features.  Dark, wavy hair, dark brown eyes, chiseled nose and his lips…she realized that they were moving which meant he was saying something.  She pulled herself together.

“I–I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I was so busy admiring the place that I didn’t see you until a moment ago.”

His eyes were riveted to her face.  “And, you are?”

She held out her hand.  “I’m Monica.  I’m here because of Alex.”

“Jared.”  He grasped her hand.  “Does he know you are here?”

“Yes.  He brought me here to spend a quiet afternoon.”

“Where is he?  He’s not a very good host leaving you out here by yourself.”

“He didn’t mean to desert me,” she said, trying to act calm when her heart was racing.  Jared was staring at her with those penetrating eyes of his and he was still holding her hand.  “He had to run an errand and said that he would be back shortly.”

He released her hand then and shoved both of his in the pockets of his trousers.  “So, how long have Alex and you known each other?” he asked.

She put her hands behind her back.  “September will make it a year,” she said.

“You’re different from his other girlfriends,” he noted as he studied her face.

She was about to tell him that she was not Alex’s girlfriend when Alex himself showed up.

He came from behind Jared.  He grinned at Monica.  “I see you have met my big brother,” he told her.  He turned to Jared.  “Thank you for taking care of Monica while I was gone.”

Jared inclined his head.  “It was my pleasure,” he said before his gaze shifted to Monica.  “It was nice meeting you.”

She smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you too.”

“Excuse me.”  He turned and walked away.  Monica was sorry to see him go.

When they were alone, she turned to Alex, “He thinks I’m your girlfriend,” she told him, looking very displeased.  “What gave him that impression?”

“Well, the only women I brought here to meet Mother and Jared were the ones I dated so when he met you, he naturally assumed that you were my current girlfriend.”  He looked at her.  “Does it bother you that he thinks that we are dating?”

“Yes, it does.”

Alex groaned.  “Don’t tell me that you have fallen for his dark, brooding looks too.”

“Is that why you never mentioned to me that you even had a brother?”

“It must have slipped my mind.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else.  Are you all set for the ball tomorrow evening?  I won’t be able to bring you, I’m afraid.  I have to be here, greeting the guests.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve never been to a ball before.  Is everyone going to be there?”

“By everyone, you mean Jared.  Yes, he’ll be there–he and his brooding looks which always seems to attract the ladies.”

Monica looked at him.  “Do I detect a little bit of jealousy?”

Alex sighed.  “Yes, I am jealous and have been since we were children.  He was always getting the attention and the girls.  That hasn’t changed.  Just once I would like to find a woman who will be immune to his charms and prefer me instead.”

Monica tucked her arm in his and gave him an encouraging smile.  “I’m sure you will find such a woman.  Now, this woman would like a tour of the grounds, if you don’t mind.”

He smiled.  “It would be my pleasure.”

It was the night of the ball and she entered the room, her eyes wide with wonder as she espied the magnificent room and the beautiful decorations.  When Alex saw her, he whistled.  He was standing by the entrance receiving the guests with his mother and Jared.  She was wearing a strapless cream chiffon gown and her hair was swept up exposing her long, slender neck.   “You look amazing,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled.  “Thank you.”  Her gaze shifted to Jared who was staring at her.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in his black tuxedo.  Even in her heels, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him.  “Hello, Jared,” she said shyly.

“Hello, Monica,” was his quiet reply.  He had a curious expression on his face.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to be here.”  She lingered there for a moment before she moved reluctantly away.  She could feel his eyes on her as she greeted his mother.  The older woman beamed at her.  “You look lovely, my Dear,” she said.  “I am delighted that you could come.  I hope you enjoy yourself.”

Monica smiled.  “Thank you, I will.”  She moved on, taking in the atmosphere, the people.  She saw a few of her co-workers milling about and she joined them.  At dinner time, she sat at the same table with the Whitmore family.  She was seated next to Alex and opposite Jared.  Every now and then, she raised her eyes to look at him and found him already looking at her.  Each time their eyes met, she felt her heart race.  No one else seemed to notice.

The food was amazing and afterwards, there was dancing.  She danced a couple of dances with Alex who was in very high spirits.  Then, as she was about to follow Alex back to the table, Jared barred her.  “Dance with me,” he said and wordlessly, she acquiesced.   Her heart did a somersault when he pulled her to him and they moved to the music.

He was a terrific dancer and his movements were fluid.  She was acutely aware of his hand in the small of her back, their bodies inches apart.  He smelled really good.  It felt wonderful dancing with him and she wished that it would last.  At one point she looked up at him and he was looking down at her.  His eyes were dark and smoldering and a muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  They didn’t say anything but the moment was charged as their attraction for each other was palpable.  She saw his gaze lower to her lips and they parted.

“Mind if I cut in?” Alex’s intrusive voice startled her and she felt Jared release her.  Then she was in Alex’s arms and he swirled her away as Jared walked stiffly off the dance floor.  For the rest of the night, Alex tended to her and she didn’t have a chance to dance with Jared again.  She left the ball feeling frustrated, especially after his cold manner toward her when they said goodnight to each other.

She tossed and turned all night and in the morning, she decided that she would go over to Whitmore Manor and straighten things out with him.  She couldn’t let him continue to believe that Alex and she were dating.  Last night it might have seemed that way, though.  She let Alex have it last night when he was driving her home.  He was sorry and he told her to drop by the manor and talk to Jared.

She finished her breakfast, showered and pulling on a pair of dress jeans and a yellow top, she left her condo.  She took the train from London to Surrey and then a short taxi ride to Whitmore Manor.  The place seemed quiet—she supposed it was because it was a Sunday morning.  She hoped Mrs. Whitmore wouldn’t mind her dropping by unexpectedly.  She ran up the steps leading to the front door and rang the bell.  As she waited she looked over at the spot where she first met Jared.  How handsome he looked that day in his denim jacket over a black shirt and tan colored trousers.

The door opened and the butler stood there.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning.  Is Mr. Jared Whitmore at home?” she asked.

“He is but he gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  Perhaps, you would like to see Mrs. Whitmore, instead.  She’s in the drawing-room.”

“Yes, thank you.” The man stepped aside to let her into the foyer.  He took her to the drawing-room and after informing Mrs. Whitmore that she had a visitor, he left.

Monica went over to the armchair where the woman was seated.  “Good morning, Mrs. Whitmore.”

Mrs. Whitmore smiled when she saw her.  “Good morning, Dear.  How nice of you to drop by this morning.  Did you have a good time at the ball last night?”

Monica nodded.  “I did.”

“It was an extremely good turn out and I believe that this year we received more donations.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, I came to see Jared but was told that he didn’t want to be disturbed.”

Mrs. Whitmore sighed.  “He’s been cooped up in the study all morning.  Can’t imagine what he’s doing in there.  He hasn’t had any breakfast.  I have a good mind to send a tray in to him.  You know, that’s exactly what I will do.”  She pulled the cord beside her.  “He needs to eat something.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, do you mind if I take it to him?”

“No, not at all.  You may be a welcome distraction.”

A few minutes later a maid appeared and Mrs. Whitmore asked her to prepare a tray for Mr. Whitmore and to bring it to the drawing-room.  As they waited, Monica and Mrs. Whitmore exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the ball.

Then, the maid went in carrying the tray.  “Thank you, Janet,” Mrs. Whitmore said. “Set it on the table over there.”  Janet did so and left the room.

Monica went and took it up.  She went to the door but stopped, unsure of where to go.

“The study is down the hall here and on your right.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore,” she said gratefully before she departed.

Her heart thudded with every step as she went down the hallway.  She set the tray down on the floor, opened the door and pushed it open.  She took up the tray and went inside.  She stood at the door.  Jared was sitting at the desk backing the door but when he heard it open, he said.  “I gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  I don’t take kindly to having my orders disobeyed…” his voice trailed off when he swung the chair around and saw her standing there.  “What are you doing here?”

She stood there, unsure of what to do next.  He was standing now, his expression guarded.  “I brought this tray for you.  Your mother said you haven’t eaten.  She’s concerned about you.”

His gaze shifted to the tray and then back to her.  “So, she sent you with it instead of sending Janet?”

“I offered,” she told him.   “I needed to speak to you.”

“Set it on the table over there.   What do you need to speak to me about?”

“It’s about Alex and me…”

His expression darkened at once and he dragged his fingers through his hair.  “Never once in all of my years have I ever been jealous of my brother.  Not even when I see how our mother continues to pamper him as if he were still a child, but that all changed when I met you.”

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

“I am jealous of him because of you, Monica.  From the moment we met, I wanted you.  That’s why I said that you were different from his other girlfriends.  I was never attracted to any of them.  You were different because I was immediately and deeply attracted to you.  Last night at the ball, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  I watched you dancing with him and wished that I was the one dancing with you. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and that’s why I asked you to dance with me.  The way you felt in my arms…” he closed his eyes at the memory.  “It felt so right.  I asked myself how could something that felt so right be wrong.  I wanted to kiss you so badly but just then, Alex came and claimed you and I had no choice but to step aside.  I watched you with him for the rest of the night, kicking myself for falling for a woman who belonged to someone else.”

It took a moment for Monica to answer because she was stunned.  She couldn’t believe what she just heard.  “Jared, I don’t belong to Alex,” she told him.  “He and I are just friends who happen to work together.  When you and I met, you assumed that I was another one of his many girlfriends and when I tried to clear up that misunderstanding, Alex joined us.”

“My brother has a knack for interrupting at the most inopportune moment.”

She took a step closer.  “That’s why I came here this morning, Jared.  To clear things up.  I couldn’t go on letting you believe that I was in a relationship with Alex when I am not.  Alex knows how I feel about you.  He knew it since the first time I met you.”

Jared moved around the desk so that he was standing in front of her.  “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his expression tense.  His hands were at his sides, aching to hold her.

“I never thought it was possible but when I met you it was love at first sight,” she said, her feelings unguarded.

He pulled her into his arms then and he muttered, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you and I felt like a heel because of Alex.  That’s why I have been cooped up in here all morning.  I was sitting here, thinking about you and feeling guilty.  And now that I know Alex and you are not romantically involved, I feel like a guilty man who has been granted a reprieve.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “You have no reason to feel guilty anymore,” she said, “We are both free and we both know what we want…”

“Yes,” he groaned and his head swooped down.  His mouth closed passionately over hers.

She sighed and closed her eyes as she responded to the kiss which she had been dreaming of since last night at the ball.

Source:  Trainline