A Misunderstanding

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

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

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

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

“How did she die?”

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

“What was she like?”

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

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

“Why do you think so?”

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you love her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

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Affairs of the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

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

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

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

“Well, now you know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And—and what is that?”

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

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

“You were gone for over an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.  “Yes.”

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

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

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

 

The 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

The Age Difference

“I wish you were going with me,” Michelle sighed, looking at Connie as she lay on the sofa with her injured leg elevated on a couple of cushions.

“Even if I weren’t laid up here with a bad leg, I wouldn’t go with you,” she told her.

Michelle’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Why not?”

“You’re running away.”

“Running away from what?”

“You mean, from whom.  You’re running away from Paul.  No matter where you go, you can’t run away from your feelings for him.”

Michelle got up in agitation and went over to the window, looking out at the quiet street outside.  “He’s so young—”

“Michelle, he’s ten years younger than you, not twenty!”

Michelle shook her head.  “I should never have gotten involved with him.  I should have followed my mind and kept our relationship platonic but…”

“…You love him and he loves you.  Don’t let your age difference prevent you from being happy.  Besides, you don’t look your age at all.  You look younger.”

“I’m thirty-five years old and in love with a guy who graduated from university just three years ago.”

“So what?  He’s very mature for his age.”

Connie was right.  Paul was very mature for his age.  Still, she wished he were older. “I wish he were older.”

“So, you are going to throw away your happiness because of his age?  Would you feel better if he were to date a girl his age?”

The thought of him with someone else filled her with jealousy.  “No, I won’t,” she admitted.  “I don’t want him to be with someone else.”

“You can’t have it both ways, Michelle.  Either you hold on to him or you let him go.”

“That’s why I think I need to go away for a while.”

“Have you told him that you’re going away?”

“Not yet.  I’m going to tell him tonight.”

“Well, I hope you know what you’re doing.  He’s a terrific guy and he loves you.”

Michelle went over to the sofa, “I’ve got to go now,” she said.  She reached down and kissed the top of her friend’s head.  “Thanks for everything.”

“Call me and let me know how things turned out.”

“I will,” Michelle promised before she left.

It was around eight that night when Paul went over to her place.  He smiled when she opened the door.  After she closed it, he was about to pull her into his arms and kiss her when she pulled away.  “I need to talk to you,” she said, turning away.  For a brief moment, she closed her eyes as her feelings for him enveloped her.  I must do this, she told herself.   Her back was stiff, her hands were clenched and her heart was pounding as she walked toward the living-room.  He followed her.  She sat down on the sofa and he sat beside her, his expression troubled when he saw her face.

“What’s wrong, Michelle?” he asked.  He reached for her hand and was startled when she moved it away.

“I’m going away,” she said, not looking at him.  She was afraid to.  She knew that if she did, her resolve would weaken.

“Where?” he asked.  “For how long?”

“New York and for two weeks.”

“Are your parents all right?” he asked.  “Did you get bad news?  Is that why you’re going?  Let me come with you, Michelle–”

“No, Paul” she cried, getting up hastily from the sofa then and hurrying over to the window, wanting to put as much distance between them as possible.  “I’m going alone. Paul, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”  There, she had said the words that had been playing over and over in her mind but the pain they invoked was unbearable.

In a flash he was beside her and turning her round to face him.  Tears were running down her face.  She tried to pull away but he refused to let go.  “Why must we stop seeing each other?” he demanded.  His face was pale and his eyes were filled with anguish and confusion.  “I love you, Michelle and I know that you love me.  Why do you want to end our relationship?”

“I’m much older than you,” she muttered.  “You should be with someone your own age.”

A muscle throbbed along his jawline.  “I don’t want to be with someone my own age,” he retorted.  “I want to be with you.”

Michelle closed her eyes as she felt her resolve crumbling.  “Paul, please…” her voice trailed off when she felt his lips on hers and unable to help herself, she responded wildly and the hands that had been about to push him away were pulling him closer.

When at length, he raised his head to look down into her face, his own flushed, he asked, “Do you still want to end what we have?”

She shook her head at once.  “No, Paul,” she cried.  “I won’t let my age come between us anymore.”

An expression of relief came over Paul’s face.  “So, no trip to New York?”

She shook her head.  “I’ll cancel it first thing in the morning,” she promised.

“Good.”  He swept her up into his arms.  “We belong together, Michelle.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her out of the room.

The Funeral

It was a gloomy day with intermittent spurts of rain.  It was as if nature itself was mourning the loss of a great woman.  Tracy was not surprised at the large turnout. The church was packed as many came to pay their respects and pay homage to Mrs. Gladys Townsend, the dear lady whom she had nursed for over five years.   She was a remarkable lady with a magnetic personality.   Although her body had succumbed to the Parkinson’s, her mind was still alert.  In the end, she had died in her sleep.

Tracy remembered how Mrs. Townsend had loved it when she read to her before she went to bed.  She loved Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.  Tracy enjoyed reading to her and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next in the story.  She had Aiden to thank for the position which had been a tremendous blessing for her.  Aiden was Mrs. Townsend’s son.  It was his idea to have his mother remain in the comforts of her home but be attended by a live-in nurse.  He contacted the live-in care agency a friend had recommended.

Tracy was selected for the position because of her experience and qualifications.  It also helped that she and Mrs. Townsend hit it off right away.  Whatever misgivings Aiden might have had, they were squashed when he saw how his mother received her warmly, remarking, “What kind eyes you have.”

Aiden.  Her gaze moved exactly where she knew he was standing.  Tall and regal in the black coat, his expression somber as he watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.  He seemed oblivious to the rain that was falling.  His dark hair glistened in the pale light.  She wanted to go over to him and shelter them both with the umbrella but she remained where she was, off to the side like an onlooker.

At the church, they hadn’t spoken to each other.  He was flanked by family and friends and Caitlin Brown.  Caitlin made no secret of the fact that she wanted to be more than friends with Aiden.  Tracy saw her tuck her arm in his and rest her head against his shoulder.  She looked away, feeling ashamed of the jealousy that stirred in her when she was supposed to be mourning the lost of a dearly departed one.

It was no use denying that she was in love with Aiden.  It might have happened the first time she met him or during those visits to his mother’s home on the weekends. He lived in London close to his office and work kept him busy.  So, visiting during the week was not feasible.  She found herself looking forward to those weekends.  Over the years, feelings developed between them but Tracy had to keep things on a professional level because of her job.  She could get fired if she were to become romantically involved with a family member.

Mrs. Townsend was very fond of Tracy and knew that she and Aiden had feelings for each other but she understood Tracy’s reasons for not doing anything about it.  So, to be on the safe side, Tracy avoided being alone with him as much as was possible. She had watched him throughout the funeral service and when she saw him and Caitlin get into his car, it stung.  She got a ride with a friend.

Now, here she was watching him and Caitlin huddled together.  The coffin was being covered with dirt as the priest said the final words.  Then it was over.  She turned and was walking back to where the cars were parked when she heard Aiden call her name.  She stopped and turned.  Her fingers gripped the handle of the umbrella tightly as she tried to appear untroubled at the sight of him and the beautiful redhead at his side.  She noticed the look of disdain Caitlin gave her and how her long red nails curled into the sleeve of his coat.

Aiden was looking at Tracy who met his gaze, wondering if he could tell how much she wished that the two of them were alone.  Her fingers itched to reach out and run themselves through the thick tresses of his hair.  For his part, his expression was drawn.  “How are you holding up, Tracy?” he asked.

“As well as expected,” she said, touched that he was concerned about her when he must be going through hell.  He and his mother were close.  Mrs. Townsend adored him and was always singing his praises.  “How about you?”

“I’m coping,” he said.  He gently disengaged his arm from Caitlin’s, removed his coat and draped it over his arm as he stepped closer to Tracy.  “Will you let me take you back to the house?” he asked.

She nodded.  It had stopped raining.  She closed the umbrella.

He took her arm and was about to walk away when Caitlin, who looked rather put out, exclaimed, “What about me?”

“Jake will give you a ride home,” Aiden told her before he turned walked away, taking Tracy with him.

“I don’t think she likes me,” Tracy commented as they walked to his car.  She had to almost run to keep up with him.  It seemed like he wanted to get out of  there and fast!

Aiden didn’t answer.  In fact he said nothing all the way to the car or even when they were leaving the cemetery.  It wasn’t until they were a good way from there, that he spoke.  “Tracy, what Caitlin thinks is of no importance to me.”

She looked at him in surprise.  “But, I thought that you and she—”

“How could you think that there is anything between Caitlin and me when I have waited for five years for you?  I haven’t dated her or any woman since I met you.  I know that your job prevented you from getting involved with me but now you are not longer employed by me.  So, what is stopping us now from being together?  I love you, Tracy.  And I know that you love me.”

She nodded.  “I do.  You don’t know how hard it was for me to push my feelings aside all these years.”

“Let’s go away,” he said.  They were at a stop light.  He turned to look at her, his eyes intense as they met hers.  “I want to be alone with you somewhere far away from here.”

“Where would you like to go?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter as long as we are together.  Perhaps somewhere tropical.  It would be good to get away from this dreary weather and the cold.”

“When would you like to go?”

“As soon as possible.  Perhaps as early as Friday.”  Friday was four days away.  “No one will object, and even if they did, I really don’t care.  It’s what Mother would have wanted.  She was rather fond of you, you know.  She knew how I felt about you and always encouraged me to hang on.  I would have waited for you, Tracy, no matter how long it took.  My only regret is that I couldn’t be with you while my mother was still alive.”

“I know.  I also know that we have her blessing.  Jamaica.”

“Jamaica?” he looked puzzled.

She smiled.  “You said somewhere tropical.”

He laughed.  “Jamaica, it is.”  He reached over and kissed her before the light turned green.

It was on the Friday, their first evening in Montego Bay, as they stood on the beach, watching the setting sun as it hovered over the ocean when Aiden proposed to Tracy. As he got down on his knee, Tracy’s hand flew up to her face as the sound of a sob mingled with a gasp rose from her throat.  Aiden took out the box and opened it, displaying the exquisite ring he had bought the year after they met and which he had shown his mother the night before she passed away.  He had kept it hidden in a drawer just as he had kept hidden in his heart the hope of one day putting it on her finger.

And here they were, on a beautiful beach, bathed with the crimson glow of the sun and the sound of the waves as they rolled on to the sand.  It couldn’t have been more romantic.  As he looked at Tracy’s face which glistened with tears, he thought he had never seen her look more beautiful and his heart swelled with the love he felt for her.

He took the ring out of the box and reached for her hand.  He slowly slipped the ring on, savoring the moment.  It was a perfect fit.  He stood up, his eyes held hers for a moment before he took her in his arms and kissed her just as the sun disappeared into the sea.

Sources:  Christie’s CareHilary’s Agency