Convinced

When Tiffany walked into her flat and saw Sebastian standing by the window, to say that she was astonished to see him would have been a gross understatement.  He turned when he heard her, his gaze traveling over her slim figure in the short sleeve turquoise blouse and navy blue pencil skirt.

Ignoring the accelerated beating of her heart, she tossed her handbag on the sofa and going over to him, she demanded, “How did you get in?”

“Your room-mate let me in before she left.”

“I’m going to have a talk with her about whom she lets into the flat when I’m not here.”

His mouth tightened then.  “I will ignore that remark,” he muttered tightly.

“Why are you here?”

“I had to talk to you.”

“Let me guess.  You’re here to warn me to stay away from Elliot again.”

“That’s one of the reasons.”

“And what’s the other?”

“My mother asked me to give you this.”  He handed her a white envelope.

Curious, she took it and opened it.  It was an invitation to a dinner party next week Saturday.  She put it back in the envelope.  “Please thank her for me.”

“Are you going to come?”

“Would you prefer if I didn’t?”

“Whether you come or not doesn’t matter to me,” he retorted.

That stung and she turned away.  “Yes, you can tell your mother that I will be there.”

“Now about Elliot…”

“Why are you so bent out of shape about our relationship?”

“I’m not bent out of shape as you so eloquently put it.  I just don’t think that you’re suitable for each other.”

“And what makes you an authority on who is compatible and who is not?”

“Experience.”

“So, you’re basing your misgivings about Elliot and me on your failed relationships?”

“My past relationships are not the issue here, your relationship with my brother is.”

“Well, my relationship with your brother is none of your business.”

He glanced around.  “It feels like a sauna in here,” he said, removing his jacket and placing it on the window seat so that he could loosen the top button of his shirt.  “Don’t you have air conditioning?”

He was right.  It was hot in there.  She tried not to notice how snug the rather expensive looking light blue shirt was snug against his broad chest as she walked past him to the wall where the panel for the air-conditioner was and turned it on.  “Are you satisfied now?” she quipped when she rejoined him by the window.

He glowered at her.  “Very.  Now, back to the main reason why I came here today—”

“You’re wasting your time,” she informed him crossly.  “I will not end my relationship with Elliot because of you.  Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to unwind after a very busy day at the office.”

“Do you love him?” He asked abruptly, startling her.

“Yes, I love him.”

“I’m not convinced,” he said, much to her chagrin.

Raising her chin, her eyes flashing, she retorted, “I don’t care if you’re convinced or not.” When she would have turned away, he caught her by the arm, forcing her to look up at him.  Their eyes met and held for several tense minutes during which she hear herself breathing heavily or was that him?  Her heart was racing and panicking, she tried to pull her arm away but his grip was firm.  “Let go of me.”

“Not until you convince me that you love my brother,” he muttered tightly, his eyes stormy as they met her wide ones.

“Let go of me or I will scream,” she threatened.

Instead of letting her go, he pulled her closer.  His eyes dropped to her lips where they lingered for a tantalizing moment before returning to her face.  “Go ahead and scream,” he dared her.

Stumped, she could only stare at him.  Just then, the doorbell rang.  He released her arm and she practically ran past him to answer the door.  She fumbled with the latch and jerked the door open.  Elliot stood there grinning but he frowned when he saw her face.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Your brother’s here,” she explained as she grabbed his arm and pulled him inside.

“Sebastian’s here?” he exclaimed.  “How come?”

“He–he dropped by to give me an invitation to your mother’s dinner party on Saturday.”

“Oh.  That was nice of him, I guess.  Well, I’m here to take you out to dinner and a movie—if you’re up to it.”

“Actually, I just got in from work and was planning to spend a quiet evening.”

“Would you like me to leave then?”

“No!” she cried, panicking.  “Please stay.  We can order in pizza or Thai while we watch a movie.”

“What about Sebastian?”

“He was just about to leave.  Why don’t call one of the take out numbers beside the phone while I get rid of him?”

Shrugging, Elliot did as she asked while she hurried into the living room.  Sebastian was standing where she left him.  She went over to him but not too close.  “Elliot is here,” she informed him tightly.  “He and I are going to have take-out and watch a movie.”

His expression darkened.  “I thought you said that you were going to unwind.”

“I do—”

“I got the impression that you wanted to unwind alone.”

“I changed my mind.  Now, if you don’t mind—”

“Don’t worry, I’m leaving.  I wouldn’t want to ruin your plans with Elliot.”  He strode over to grab his jacket from the window seat and then he left the living-room.  She followed him.

Elliot was on the phone but he covered the mouthpiece to say hello to his brother who acknowledged him with a withering look before he turned to Tiffany and bidding her a rather curt, “Good evening.”  He tugged open the door and stepped out, closing it firmly behind him.  After locking it, she leaned against it, trying to get catch her breath.

Elliot hung up the phone and went over to her.  “The food will be here in about twenty minutes,” he told her.  “What’s the matter?  Did I miss something?  Why did Sebastian leave in such a hurry?”

“I’ll tell you after I get changed,” she muttered before moving away from the door and hurrying off to the bedroom.

It was while they were having the Thai food that she told him everything that had happened between Sebastian and her.  Elliot whistled.  “No wonder he stormed out of here.  Tiff, why did you let him think that you’re in love with me when he’s the one you’re in love with?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I was upset with him because of some of the things he said.

“Well, my advice to you is that you tell him how you really feel.”

She shook her head.  “No way,” she protested.  “I can’t do that when I don’t know how he feels about me.”

Elliot stared at her.  “You’re kidding, right?”

She looked bewildered.

“Tiff, Sebastian’s in love with you, that’s why he’s so bent out of shape over our relationship.”

“But he said he wasn’t bent out of shape.”

“He said a lot of things but his actions said differently.  And you and I both know that if I didn’t show up when I did, things would have gotten hot and steamy between you.  Now, my advice to you is to go and see him.  Tell him how you feel.”

“No, I’m not going to do that.  After the way I treated him tonight he’s not going to want to see me and I’m not going over there and embarrass myself.”

“All right,” he said.  “I won’t press you anymore on this.  Let’s watch the movie.”

Two hours later, Elliot stood outside of Sebastian’s flat.  He rang the doorbell.  Shortly after, the door opened and his brother stood there, scowling at him.  “What do you want?” he asked.

“I know it’s late but I need to talk to you and I’d rather not do it out here.”

Sebastian opened the door wider for him to go in.  After he closed it and locked it, he turned around to face him.  “What do you have to say to me that couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

“It’s about Tiffany.”

Sebastian stiffened at once.  “What about her?” he asked tautly.

“You’re in love with her, aren’t you?”

“Is that why you’re here, Elliot, to gloat?”

“Gloat?”

“Yes.  You came here to gloat because I love Tiffany and she loves you.”

“You’re mistaken about two things.  I didn’t come here to gloat and Tiffany isn’t in love with me.”

“I asked her if she loved you and she said yes.”

“She loves me, yes, but as a friend–nothing more.  She made you believe otherwise because she was upset with you.  Besides, she said that you weren’t convinced that she was telling the truth.”

“I didn’t want to believe that she was.  I didn’t want to believe that she loved you.”

“Well, you can rest assured that she doesn’t love me in a romantic way.   Besides, if one of us has something to gloat about it would be you.”

Sebastian looked confused and then it dawned on him.  “You mean…?”

Elliot nodded with a grin.  “Yes, Brother, Tiffany’s in love with you.”

Sebastian ran his fingers through is hair, a stunned expression on his face.  “I had no idea,” he said.  “Earlier when she and I were alone together, I suspected that she might be attracted to me but I never imagined that she was in love with me.”

“Well, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll go and see her tomorrow evening.”

“Good.  I’ll be taking off now.  Have a good night, Sebastian.”  He patted his arm before turning to unlock and open the door.

“Goodnight, Elliot,” Sebastian said with a smile.  “Thanks for stopping by.”  After he closed the door, he went straight to bed, although he knew that sleep would elude him.  His mind was racing.  Tomorrow, he was going to see Tiffany and confront her about their feelings for each other.  His heart skipped a beat at the thought.

Tiffany had just finished taking a shower and changed into a tee shirt and slacks when the doorbell rang.  Frowning, she went to answer it and like clockwork, her heart began to race when she saw who it was.  She opened the door.  Her gaze slipped over his tall frame, thinking how amazing he looked in the black silk shirt and black trousers.

“Hello,” he said quietly.

“Hello,” she replied as she stepped aside for him to enter the foyer.  When he walked past her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her hands trembled slightly as she closed the door and locked it.  When she turned to face him, their eyes met and held for a long time.  She could tell that he was nervous too.  “Before you say anything, I want to apologize for my behavior yesterday.”

“I owe you an apology too.  It was very presumptuous of me to interfere in your life.”

“When you asked me if I loved Elliot and I said yes, I panicked when you said that you weren’t convinced.  I thought you had seen right through my little white lie.”

“I said that because I didn’t want to believe that you were in love with him.”

“You-you refused to let go of my arm unless I convinced you that I didn’t love Elliot.  How were you going to get me to do that?”

“By doing this,” he muttered and reaching out, he pulled her against him and his mouth found hers.

Unable to help herself, Tiffany put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  They stood there, kissing each other wildly, consumed with desire.  Then, she broke off their kiss to ask rather breathlessly, “Are you convinced now that I don’t love Elliot?”

“Yes,” he muttered thickly.  “No woman would kiss a man the way you just did if she were in love with someone else.”

“You’re right about that,” she managed to say before he kissed her again.

 

 

 

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A Memorable Birthday

Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship.  She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public.  He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time.  She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships.  She was just going to concentrate on her career.  Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.

One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her.  She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there.  Curious, she approached him.  He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small.  Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties.  “What are you doing here?  This is a private beach.”

“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained.  “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday.  I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise.  It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”

Lola was touched by his request.  “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”

He looked very relieved and smiled.  “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.

She smiled.  “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand.  “What’s your name?”

“Julian Mortimer.”  They shook hands.

“What time is the party?” she asked.

“At seven.  Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her.   “I’d like you to come at eight.  By then everyone will be there.”

She took the invitation.  “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised.  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”

“Thank you.  Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday.  I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC.  And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party.  The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you.  Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am.  I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”

“Don’t worry.  No one’s going to get fired or anything like that.  Besides,  I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause.  And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this.  My mother will be thrilled.”

“Are you and she close?”

He nodded.  “Yes, we are.  I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had.  She doted on and still does.  I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”

“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.

“I believe that I’m the lucky one.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I must be going,” he said apologetically.  He held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”

She shook his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“I look forward to being there.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.

She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge.  Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.

Saturday came.  She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top.  Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings.  After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.

Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view.  Her mouth dropped open.  It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel.  The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison.  She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.

Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there.  A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there.  She presumed that he was the butler.  “Good evening,” he said.  “You must be Miss Flanning.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time.  Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns.  She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her.  To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her.  “Hello,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.  “You look very beautiful.”

“Thank you.  And you don’t look bad yourself.”  He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.

He smiled.  “Thank you.  Come let me introduce you to my mother.”  Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.

“Which one is she?” she asked.

“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her.  “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”

She glanced up at him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”

“I would have come regardless.  How is she doing?”

“Her symptoms come and go in phases.  There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine.  Right now, she seems fine.”

“Does she live here on her own?”

“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse.  Between the two of us, we take care of her.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”

Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.

“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”

She glanced up at him.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”

She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock.  “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian.  “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”

Julian beamed.  “Yes, Mother.  I wanted to surprise you.”

Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand.  The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said.  “Thank you.”

Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.

“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”

“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me.  Have you had anything to eat?”

“Actually, no, but–”

“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”

“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.

Julian excused himself and quickly left the room.  After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph.  They were excited that she was going to sing.  One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins.  You deserve better.”

Lola smiled but didn’t answer.  Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food.  Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.

After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt.  Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face.  Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys.  An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.

“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Please call me, Olivia.  You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”

“You owe it all to Julian.”

“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple.  “He’s my pride and joy.  Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease.  I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”

“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was.  Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.

Just then Julian turned and their eyes met.  Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips.  “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs. Mortimer.  “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.”  That was true.  Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget.  And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle.  In a flash, Julian was at her side.

“Mother, you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not,” she protested.  “Stop fussing.”

“You’re tired,” he insisted.  “I can see it on your face.  It’s after ten.  You should be going to bed now.  I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you.  Please don’t argue with me, Mother.  Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”

Mrs. Mortimer sighed.  “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child.  Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.”  Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready.  After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.

Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers.  “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight.  You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met.  And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”

Olivia squeezed her hands.  “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said.  “I will have Julian get in touch with you.  Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one.  God bless you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up.  She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.

“Don’t leave,” he said.  “I will be back shortly.”

“I’ll wait here,” she promised.  After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows.  It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds.  She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean.   She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him.  As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.

She turned when she heard Julian come into the room.  He joined her at the window.  “How is she?” she asked.

“She seems fine.  I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman.  I admire her.”

He smiled.  “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too.  Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her.  Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”

“Sure.  I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”

They went outside.  It was a balmy night.   He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.

As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked,  “Was living here ever lonely for you?”

“Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible.  As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays.  I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be.  So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases.  And that’s fine for me.  We enjoy each other’s company.”

“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”

He stopped abruptly and turned to face her.  “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”

She nodded.  “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”

“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”

She lowered her eyes.  “It doesn’t matter what I wish.”  The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit.  How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?

“It matters to me, Lola.  Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again?  I couldn’t concentrate on my work.  I kept seeing your lovely face.  And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  You take my breath away, Lola…”

Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face.  “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because…How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m thirty-nine.  Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”

He seemed unfazed.  “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”

“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you.  So, the answer to your question is no.  I would rather be with you.”

“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him.  She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time.  “I–I need to go now.”  She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free.  “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola?  Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?”  He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly.  And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.

Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting.  She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life.  When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off.  As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed.  Sleep evaded her.  Her mind was spinning.  All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She closed her eyes in despair.   Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.

Three weeks passed since that night.  She was restless.  Her thoughts were filled with Julian.  Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy.  Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him.  She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony.  The water was calm and she envied it.  The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light.  Seagulls soared in the sky.  What a glorious day.  Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.

Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian.  Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean.  He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks.  There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes.  As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.

“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.

He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs.  “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”

“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him.  “You didn’t have to come in person.”  Although I’m thrilled to see you. 

“All right,” he sighed.  “I came because I can’t stay away any longer.  I had to see you, LolaI can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other.  When we kissed…”  His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.

“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested.  “I’m much older than you.”  The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced.  What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison.  Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.

“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together.  Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”

“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him.  The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him.  She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.

“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now.  Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.

Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.

They entered into a relationship.  In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer.  Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.

 

Source:  NHS Choices;

The Date

Alessandro came out of his office to see if Belinda was there.  Today was the day he was going to ask her to have dinner with him.  His heart skipped a beat at the thought.  To say that he was very nervous was an understatement.  For the longest while he had wanted to ask her out but never worked up the courage.  They had been working together for six years and she was the best assistant he ever had.  She joined the firm fresh out of university.

He wasn’t exactly sure when it happened but one afternoon while he was sitting in his office, he realized that he was in love with her.   The realization floored him.  He never imagined that he would fall in love with someone so young.  She was in her late twenties and he was approaching forty.  He sat there that day, mulling over the matter until it was time to leave.  He didn’t know how she felt about him.  She was always pleasant and seemed to enjoy working with him.  She was a breath of fresh air and every day he looked forward to seeing her.

All of last week, they worked late and during those times, he would stare at her as she pored over the paperwork.   She didn’t have a boyfriend and he had made sure that she knew that he wasn’t in a relationship.  Once when they were working late, they both reached for the same file and their hands touched.  Immediately his eyes flew up to her face and found her staring at him.  For one tremulous moment, the air was charged between them and he wanted so badly to lean over and…there was a knock on the door.  It was the food he had ordered being delivered.

The sound of voices interrupted his thoughts now and he stood there, his heart thudding as he waited for Belinda to appear.  She did a few minutes later, laughing and talking to Lindsey.   As she approached her cubicle, she saw him and she said something to Lindsey before she went over to him after placing her handbag on her desk.  “Sorry, if I’m a little late,” she apologized.  “Lindsey treated me to lunch today and I guess the time went by very quickly.  Do you need me for anything?”

He nodded.  “I need to ask you something,” he said quietly.  “Come and see me in my office when you have a chance.”  He turned and went back into his office.

She removed her jacket as she walked back to her cubicle and draped it over the chair.  She put her handbag in one of the drawers, logged on to her computer to see if she had any urgent messages before she got up and went to his office.

He was standing at the window, looking out with his hands clasped behind his back and turned when he heard her go in.  She closed the door behind her and then crossed the carpet to where he stood.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes.  “Do you need me to work late again this week?” she asked.  “I have plans this evening with Marco but—”

His expression changed.  “Marco?” he repeated.  “You have plans with Marco?” Marco was his nephew.  He had introduced them two weeks ago when Marco stopped by the office to see him.  “You’ve been in touch with him?”

She watched him warily.  He didn’t seem at all pleased.  “He came by yesterday to see you but you were at the conference.  He said that he would call you later in the week.  Before he left, he told me that he had two tickets to a basketball game and asked me to go with him.  I didn’t have any plans so I said yes.”

He ran his fingers through his hair as he tried to remain calm.  Jealousy burned through him like a wild fire.  “And what do you plan to do after the game?”

“I–I don’t know.  Alessandro, if you need me to work late tonight, I can cancel my plans with—”

He held up his hand.  “No, don’t cancel your plans on my account.  Go and have a good time with Marco.”  He turned and walked over to his desk.  He pulled out the chair and sat down.

Belinda stared at him for a while, longing to tell him that she would rather work late with him than go to the basketball game with Marco but at that moment, he reached for the phone and turned his chair so that he was backing her.  She turned and walked quickly out of the office, tears pricking her eyes.  How she wished she hadn’t accepted Marco’s invitation.  Marco was a nice guy but she wasn’t interested in him at all.  She was in love with his uncle.

Instead of going back to her desk, she went into the washroom where she stayed for a little while, leaning over the sink, trying to pull herself together.  The expression on Alessandro’s face when she told him about Marco was one she would never forget.

As soon as she had gone, Alessandro hung up the phone and leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes.  He felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.  Marco?  She was going out with Marco.  He hadn’t seen that coming.  It hurt like hell.  And to think he was going to ask her out for dinner.  He saved himself the humiliation of being turned down in favor of his nephew.  Anger toward Marco burned in him even as he realized it wasn’t his fault that Belinda preferred to be with him instead of his uncle who should have known better than to fall in love with a girl so much younger than he.

How was he going to get through the rest of the day?  He couldn’t, he decided and getting to his feet, he grabbed his keys and left the office.  Belinda wasn’t at her desk, so he said to Lindsey, “Please let Belinda know that I’ve left for the day.  If anything urgent comes up, she can reach me on my cell.” And he was gone.

When Belinda returned to her cubicle a few minutes later, Lindsey relayed the message.  “He didn’t give any reason why he was leaving so early?” she asked and Lindsey shook her head.  Belinda sat there, trying to understand why Alessandro had left.  It wasn’t like him.  She picked up her phone and called Marco.  “Hi Marco, I’m calling to tell you that I can’t come to the basketball game with you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said.  “Is everything all right?  You sound upset.”

“I am,” she said in a trembling voice.  “It’s Alessandro.  I think he was very upset when I told him about you and the basketball game.  I offered to cancel our plans but he told me not to do so on his account but I could tell that he was upset.”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?  I could tell by the way you talk about him.  Do you want me to talk to him?”

“He’s not here.  He left for the day.”

“Wow, he must really be upset.  It’s not like him to leave work for any reason.”

“What should I do, Marco?”

“Go and see him later.  Tell him how you feel about him.”

“Okay.  I will.”

“Good luck, Belinda.”

“Thanks, Marco.”  She hung up.  Yes, she was going to go over to Alessandro’s place later.  Hopefully, he would be there.  If not, she would talk to him tomorrow in his office.  Either way, she had to straighten things out with him.

Alessandro had just stepped out of the shower and was getting dressed when the doorbell rang.  He quickly buttoned his shirt and tucked it into his jeans before he left his room and went to answer the door.  After peering through the keyhole, he unlocked the door and opened it.  His expression was tense as he stared down into Belinda’s face.  His heart was pounding as he ached to touch her.  What is she doing here?  Why isn’t she at the basketball game with Marco?

She swallowed hard, her pulse racing.  “May I come in?” she asked.  How she longed to reach up and touch his face–the face she loved so much.

He stepped aside to let her into the foyer and then he closed the door behind her.  After sliding the latch back into place, he turned to face her.  “What are you doing here?” he asked quietly.  “Won’t you be late for your date with Marco?”

She put her handbag on the table and met his gaze head-on.  “I don’t have a date with Marco.  I called and told him that I can’t go to the game.  He was cool about it.  I’m sure he found someone else to go with or maybe he ended up going alone.  I don’t know.  I’m here because I have something important to tell you.”

A muscle was throbbing along his jaw line now.  “What do you need to tell me?” he asked tightly, his eyes were restless on her face.  He wanted so much to take her in his arms.  It was torture standing there, looking at her and wanting to feel her body against his.

She took a deep breath, her heart was beating so hard that it felt as if it would fall out of her chest.  Her palms were sweaty.  She was so nervous but she had to say what she went there to say.  “I–I love you, Alessandro.  That’s what I came here to tell you and–” Her voice ended in a gasp when he pulled her roughly into his arms and held her tightly against him.

His eyes were dark and smoldering when they met hers.  “I love you too,” he muttered thickly.  “Oh, Belinda,” he groaned before his head swooped down and his mouth sought hers, moving hungrily and feverishly when he felt her fiery response.  Her fingers were in his damp hair, gripping the silky strands as they exchanged hot kisses.

After a long time, he raised his head to gaze down into her face, breathing heavily.  “Can you stay for dinner?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath.  “And for breakfast.”

He smiled and picking up her in his arms, he said, “I hope you don’t mind having a late breakfast.”

 

british couple6

The Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was for your benefit.”

She was confused.  “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Failed Plan

The young ladies were all in a tizzy because Mr. Edmond McFadyen was joining them for dinner that evening.  Mr. Burrows had taken the liberty to extend the long overdue invitation when he had the pleasure of bumping into the young man at the gentlemen’s club that morning.

Ever since the McFadyens had moved into Grand Meadow Manor, Mrs. Burrows had pressed her husband to make their acquaintance.  They were invited to tea but Edmond was not present at the time, much to Mrs. Burrows’ consternation.   She urged Mr. Burrows to invite the young man to dinner and was beside herself with excitement when it was accepted graciously.

Mrs. Burrows clapped her hands in delight.  “Oh, girls,” she said to her daughters, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.  “Just think, one of you will win the affections of Edmond McFadyen.” Yes, it was her plan to secure one of her daughters for one of London’s most eligible bachelors.

The girls giggled.  “Oh, Mama,” Henrietta cried, “He is ever so handsome.  Which one of us do you think he will prefer?” she asked her sisters.

“Me,” said Louise.  “I’m the oldest and wisest.”

Evelyn pursed her lips.  “I’m the prettiest.”

Henrietta clucked.  “And I’m the youngest.”

They began to quarrel among themselves and Mrs. Burrows raised her hand.  “Girls, girls, stop fighting among yourselves,” she said.  “We will know soon enough this evening which of you Mr. McFadyen will favor.  Now, why don’t you run upstairs and sort out what you will wear. You must all look your very best, you know.”

“Yes, Mama,” they cried and bustled out of the room, leaving Mrs. Burrows alone with their cousin, Kay.

Kay sat by the fireplace reading a book.  She had listened to the commotion but had kept quiet.  Her aunt would not have welcomed any remark from her.  The older woman had never made her feel welcomed in her home.  And her cousins had always made her plain and inferior.  Only her uncle treated her kindly.  Many an evening they would sit in the library and have stimulating conversations.  He had intimated once that he wished his daughters were more like her.

She could feel her aunt’s gaze on her and she looked up.  The withering stare she received elicited a heavy sigh.  She closed her book.  “Perhaps, you would rather be alone, Aunt Mabel,” she said.  She was about to rise from the chair.

Her aunt waved her to remain seated.  “Don’t leave until I have said what I need to say to you,” she said.

“What is it, Aunt?”

“Don’t imagine for one moment that Mr. McFadyen would pay any attention to you. He is a gentleman.  You are not a gentleman’s daughter.  Your father was a shopkeeper.  I still don’t know what possessed my sister to marry him.”

Kay’s face suffused with color.  She tried to remain calm.  “My father may not have been a gentleman, Aunt, but he was a man of good character and my mother loved him.  As for Mr. McFadyen, I have no given no thought of him paying me any attention that is beyond what is customary.”

“You are not a pretty girl by any means, so I don’t suppose there’s any likelihood that the good gentleman would even notice you.”

Kay opened her mouth to respond to that unkind remark but decided that it was not worth dignifying.  “If you have no further requirements for me, Aunt, I shall excuse myself.”

Her aunt waved her away dismissively.  Getting up from the armchair, Kay made her exit.  Kay spent the rest of the afternoon in her room and when it was time to get ready for dinner, she did so half-heartedly.  She chose the pink gown that flattered her coloring and shape.  She pulled her hair back from her face in a French knot, allowing a few curls to fall across her forehead and brush against her cheeks.  She examined her reflection in the mirror and satisfied that she looked respectable, she left the room.

They were all in the drawing-room, including Mr. McFadyen who was surrounded, poor chap, by her excitable cousins.  All eyes turned in her direction when she entered the room and she felt her face go red.  How she wished she could return to her room.  She would be happier curled up on the bed, reading her book.  A tray could have been brought up.  Her eyes caught the sour expression on her Aunt’s face, the disdained glances of her cousins, the affectionate smile on her Uncle’s face before her gaze drifted to the guest of honor.

He was tall, very stately in appearance and quite handsome.  “This is our niece, Miss Forrester,” she heard her Uncle say.  Mr. McFadyen bowed and she curtsied.

The announcement that dinner was ready came just then and they all went in.  Mr. and Mrs. Burrows preceded the party.  Mr. McFadyen escorted Louise as she was the eldest; her sisters followed, looking rather cross and Kay brought up the rear.

She was seated at the opposite end of the table, as conceivably far from Mr. McFadyen as possible.  No doubt her Aunt’s doing.  Louise sat on his left and Evelyn on his right while Henrietta sat beside Evelyn, much to her displeasure.

However, the evening didn’t go as her Aunt hoped.  Her Uncle kept drawing Kay into the conversation when her Aunt and cousins seemed perfectly happy to ignore her. Mr. McFadyen seemed more interested in what she had to say than the frivolous chatter of her cousins. Kay found that she and Mr. McFadyen had a great deal in common.  They shared a love for History and the Arts.  He had done a great deal of travelling and she listened with rapt interest as he recounted some of his adventures.

The evening turned out to be rather pleasant for Mr. Burrows, Mr. McFadyen and Kay.  Before he left, Mr. McFadyen said to Kay, “Miss Forrester, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the museum tomorrow?  There are some new Egyptian artifacts on display which I have no doubt you will find fascinating.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Sir.  I would be delighted to accompany you.”

“I bid you goodnight, Miss Forrester,” he said with a smile and a bow.

“I bid you goodnight, Mr. McFadyen.”  She curtsied.

After he left, she was subjected to malevolent stares from her Aunt and cousins.  “Kay, you should be ashamed of yourself, monopolizing Mr. McFadyen’s attention like that,” Louise scolded her.  “If you weren’t there, he would have paid more attention to me.”

“All that dull talk about History and Art,” Henrietta complained.  “He’s as dull as you, Kay.”

“And what did he say to you just now before he left, might I ask?” demanded Evelyn.

“If you must know, he invited me to accompany him to the museum tomorrow.”

“What?” her Aunt was aghast.  She slumped against the chair, fanning herself with her handkerchief as if she were feeling faint.

Her Uncle chuckled.  “It seems as if Mr. McFadyen has taken a fancy to Kay.”

“A fancy, indeed!  It’s all your fault, Mr. Burrows.  If you had ignored her like the rest of us, Mr. McFadyen would have requested the company of one of our girls.”

“My Dear Lady, it was clear to me that the young gentleman was not at all interested in any of our girls.  Therefore, ignoring Kay would not have changed that fact.  Now, it’s late and I am going to retire.”

Kay thought it a good time to leave as well.  She knew if she stayed, she would be raked over the coals.  “I too must retire.  Goodnight, Uncle.”  She kissed him.  “Goodnight, Aunt, Louise, Evelyn and Henrietta.”  She didn’t wait for them to respond but hurried from the room.

As she ran up the stairs, she felt a deep satisfaction that her Aunt’s plan for Mr. McFadyen had failed.  He was a gentleman, indeed and deserving of a woman who was his equal, not in social status but in character.

 

Source:  Fantasy Name Generators

A Model Moment

She stood there watching as the evening unfurled, a solitary figure in a room filled with people from the fashion and business world.  She was there by invitation from her friend, a fashion photographer.  She felt so out of place.  She wasn’t used to be around such glamorous people.  Several people thought she was a model.  A few photographers snapped her photo, much to her chagrin.  It reminded her of the time when she had to recite a poem in front of her classmates.  She managed to get through it but it was nerve-racking.

She wasn’t one for socializing and at the first opportunity, she slipped out and escaped to the brightly lit garden.  It was a beautiful evening.  A slight breeze blew, gently rustling the trees.  It was early summer when the weather was comfortable.

She had no idea of how long she would stay outside but for now it was where she felt most comfortable.  She slowly walked along the path, her gaze sweeping over the sprawling grounds and in the background, she could hear peals of laughter and the clinking of glasses. She paused at the rose bush.  Unable to resist, she leaned over and breathed in the sweet fragrance.

“Good evening.”

The voice startled her and she swung round.  A tall figure approached her.  As he drew nearer, she recognized him from the photos her friend had taken and which were featured in the Spring issue of GQ.  Her heart began to beat fast and she wondered what she could say to him.  “Good evening,” she replied.

He smiled as he held out his hand.  “Adrian Barlow.”

She shook his hand.  “Simone Jackson.”

“I see you had the same idea,” he remarked.  “Getting away from the crowd, I mean.”

“Yes,” she looked away, feeling self-conscious because of his penetrating stare.

“I hope you don’t mind me joining you, Simone.”

She shook her head.  “No, I don’t mind.”

“Shall we take a walk?”

She nodded.  And they walked along the path.

“Are you a model?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  I’m the Assistant Art Director of a children’s publisher.”

“Do you like what you do?”

“Yes.  I like my job very much.  As a child, I loved to read.  I still do.  I know that you are a model.  I have seen your photos in GQ.  Do you like modelling?”

He shrugged.  “It’s something I do when I am not too busy.  I don’t see myself doing it for much longer.  I have my own business which I enjoy running.”

“You know my friend, Erin.  She’s the reason why I am here tonight.”

“I saw when you arrived and watched you all evening, waiting for an opportunity to speak to you.  I saw you slip out and followed.  You really are quite beautiful, you know.”

She didn’t know what to say.  It wasn’t often that she had a gorgeous man tell her that she was beautiful.  They had come upon a fountain.  There was a bench nearby and she went toward it.  She sat down and he sat beside her, turning so that he was facing her.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you just now,” he said.   “Surely I’m not the first man to pay you such a compliment.”

“No, you aren’t the first but you have been around so many beautiful women.”

“Yes, I have,” he acknowledged.  “But none of them hold a candle to you.  Have dinner with me tomorrow evening, Simone.”

She stared at him and saw that he was very serious.  His amazing eyes were unwavering as they met her startled ones.  “Dinner with you,” she repeated, somewhat dazed.  This moment was almost surreal.

“Yes, unless you have other plans.”

“No, no.  I don’t have any other plans.”

“Then, you will have dinner with me?”

“Yes.”

She gave him her address which he scribbled on the back of a business card and placed in his breast pocket.

They sat there a while longer, talking.  She found herself becoming very relaxed with him and opening up.  Then they heard the sound of cars leaving and realized that it was time to go.  Reluctantly, she got up from the bench.  “Do you have a ride home?” he asked.

“Yes, I will get a ride with Erin.”

They headed back to the mansion and stopped at the foot of the steps where they were to part company.  “I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow,” he told her before he took her hand and raised it to his lips.  His eyes held hers as he kissed it.  Her heart was pounding and her skin tingled. “Good night, Simone,” he said softly when he raised his head.

“Good night, Adrian.”

He released her hand and walked away.  Just then Erin joined her.  “I was wondering where you had gone off to,” she said, watching Adrian go.  “I see that you were in good company.”

Simone smiled.  “Thanks for inviting me tonight, Erin.  I had a wonderful time.”

“I can see that,” her friend teased before she took her arm and they headed to her car.

Source:  The Guardian Jobs

Mistress of Pembrook

She had walked through the gate at Pembrook Manor, stopping only for a moment to look back at the impressive mansion in the midst of the sprawling land that you could see for miles.  Somewhere in that imposing structure was the man she was running away from.  She knew he had returned from his business trip yesterday evening and she wanted to be out of the house before she risked running into him. He had sent Mrs.  Allen, the housekeeper to take her to the drawing-room to spend time with him but she told the kindly woman that she was not feeling well.  She knew that if she had accepted his invitation, her resolve to leave in the morning would have weakened.  After Mrs. Allen left, she packed her bags, her heart heavy.

She felt terrible about leaving Katie.  She had grown so fond of the little girl but she couldn’t stay another day at Pembrook, knowing that she must leave there soon any way when Mr. Middleton married Miss Young.  The thought of him and the beautiful daughter of Baron and Baroness Young filled her with such pain.  How foolish it was to fall in love with her employer, an man of nobility and whose station was so superior to hers, a mere governess.  And it had been even more foolish to think that he would have any regard for her even if Miss Young were  not in the picture.

It was beautiful, crisp morning.  The sun was just rising.  She felt no pleasure in it, though.  Countless of times she had walked this way with him and found great delight in doing so.  Tears stung her eyes as she hurried to the spot where she was to meet the coach.

“Going somewhere, Miss Evans?”

She stopped dead in her tracks, dropping her bags, her eyes large in her pale face, shocked to see her employer standing there.  “Mr. Middleton,” she gasped.  “What are you doing here?”

“I went for a walk.   And you haven’t answered my question.”

“I-I am going away.”

“That I can see but where are you going and for how long?”

She saw the carriage approaching and picked up her bags.  “I must leave Pembrook, Sir and return to my home from whence I shall not return.”

He came closer, his eyes troubled now.  “What do you mean?” he demanded.  “Why must you leave Pembrook and not return?”

With him so close, staring at her it was hard to remain resolute.  “You are to be married, Sir and I cannot remain at Pembrook when that happens.  So, the best thing for me to do is to leave.”

He grabbed her arms.  It was a firm grip but it did not hurt at all.  It was meant to secure her.  “You cannot leave,” he declared.  “I will not let you.”

“Sir, I must leave.  The coach is approaching.  I must catch it.”

He released her then but turned and strode toward the coach.  She hurried after him, desperate now to leave.  “The young lady will not be departing,” he told the driver.   Before she could say anything, the driver replied, “Very well, Sir,” turned around and drove off.

She was terribly upset now.  “Oh, Mr. Middleton, why did you send the coach away? My family is expecting to see me tomorrow afternoon.  I wrote and told them that I was coming home.”

“You can write and tell them that there has been a change of plans.”

Unable to hold it any longer, she dropped her bags, turned aside and ran into the woods, leaning heavily against the first tree she stumbled upon.  Mr. Middleton was immediately at her side. She pressed her hand against her mouth to prevent the sobs that rose in her throat but she couldn’t stop the tears.  “I cannot stay at Pembrook, Mr. Middleton,” she told him in a trembling voice.  “I cannot remain there when you are to be married to Miss Young.”

He looked puzzled.  “What the deuce are you talking about?  What is this talk of marriage between Miss Young and myself?”

She looked at him.  “Mrs. Allen intimated that there is soon to be an announcement of your nuptials.”

“Mrs. Allen is mistaken.  Miss Young and I have no plans to be wed.  It is the hope of my aunt that such a match should be forthcoming but alas for her, it is not to be. Miss Young’s affections are engaged elsewhere as are mine.”

She was relieved to hear that there was to be no marriage between Miss Young and him but who was the object of his affections?  “Mr. Middleton, nothing has changed. I am going to leave Pembrook as soon as other arrangements can be made.”

He took her by the shoulders and drew her to him.  “You are not going to leave Pembrook or me,” he insisted.  “You are going to stay there as my wife.”

She blinked at him, stunned.  “Your wife?” she repeated, dazed.

“Yes, my wife.  I love you, Miss Evans.  I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you but I hid my feelings because of convention.  Well, hang convention.  I want to marry you.”

“Oh, Mr. Middleton, I love you too.  I have loved you since the first time we met.  I never dreamed that you would harbor any romantic feelings toward me.  I am just an ordinary governess who has nothing to recommend her to you, except her deep love and fidelity.”

He held her face between his hands, his eyes shone with the love he had suppressed for so long.  “You have made me the happiest man in Hartfordshire Country.” He kissed her.  “Let us go home,” he said as he raised his head.  “Let us go back to Pembrook where you shall soon be Mistress.”

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