The Plants

ronda-del-boccio

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

 

“Where did you get these strange plants from?” Wei asked.

Sue tried not to panic.  “They are gifts.”  Why does Wei have to be so nosy?  And why is she here instead of at the market?

“Who gave them to you?”

“A friend, I think.  I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember who gave you these ugly plants?” Wei sounded skeptical.

“Wei, aren’t you going to the market?”

“Oh, yes.  I’d better leave now.”  She scurried off.

Once the coast was clear, Sue went over to the plants and removed the Bibles.  It was time to find new hiding places.

99 Words

This story was inspired by an article I read about China shutting down churches and seizing Bibles in an “ambitious new effort to lessen or even eradicate the influence of Christianity and religion from the country”.  So far, the government has shut down hundreds of Christian house churches.

According to Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “Xi is a closet Maoist—he is very anxious about thought control.  He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly to Xi himself.”  Faithful Christians would rather obey God than men and will do so even if it costs them their lives.

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For more details, visit Here.  To read stories of 100 words based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

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The Nightmare

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Copyright Susan Spaulding

She stood at the window.  Radio City Music Hall was on her left.  Below, people carried on with their lives, oblivious to her plight.

She had left one prison only to end up in another type—without bars but more confining.  She was trapped inside the world of sex trafficking.  In exchange for being released from prison she was forced to become a sex worker.  If she didn’t comply, her bond would be rescinded and she would be thrown back into jail.  Prison life for an African American woman would be intolerable.

She had been arrested on prostitution charges, which were false.  She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and when the others were rounded up, she was too.  Her protests fell on deaf ears and found herself in a cell, looking through the bars, terrified.  She had no one to help her.

When she heard that her bail was posted and that she was going to be released, she was surprised but relieved.  And then her nightmare really began…

She turned away from the window and began to undress.  The senator lay there watching her, waiting, like all predators with their victims.

197 words

This story was inspired by an article on US Sex Trafficking where sex traffickers target incarcerated women, forcing them to become sex workers after posting their bail and having them released from prison.  The women had to do what they were told or risk going back to prison.  Sex trafficking is a heinous practice that needs to be banned.

This post was written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. For more details visit Here.  To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Source:  Freedom United

Praise

I will always praise the Lord.  With all my heart, I will praise the Lord – Psalm 34:1, 2

King David was always praising God.  Every opportunity he got, he praised Him for who He is and what He does in our lives.  Do we praise God?  Do we take the time to praise Him for who is He is?  Or do we spend most of our time asking Him for things?

Instead of asking God to bless our children, we should say, “Lord God, we want praise You for the many blessings You have poured out on our children.  We want to praise You for Your faithfulness and goodness.”

When God answers our prayers, do we praise Him?  David did.  “I praise You, Lord, for answering my prayers.  You have helped me and I will celebrate and thank You in song” (Psalm 28:6, 7).

Even when we are hurting, we ought to praise God.  “Lord, even though I am feeling low today, I want to lift up Your name.  You are my Rock and my refuge.  I know that this sadness will not last because You will send joy my way.  You will lift me out of this valley and place me back on top of the mountain.  You will make my heart glad because of Your goodness and kindness.  Lord, even when I don’t feel like singing, Your put songs in my heart.  Even when I don’t feel like smiling, You put a smile on my face.  Today, Lord, I praise Your name because You deserve to be praised.  Honour and glory belong to You.  I praise Your name because You are good.  You have rescued me from all of my troubles.”

I find that when I am feeling down and I start to praise God and sing songs of praise, my spirits are lifted and the sadness vanishes.  When we focus on God instead of our troubles, it makes a world of different.  Let us get into the habit of petitioning God less and praising Him more.

Worth Fighting For

If love is great, then it is worth fighting for – Cassandra Clare

As we walked down the cobbled streets of Rome,

holding hands, no one looking at our smiling faces

had an inkling of what we have been through to be

together.

 

We felt like Romeo and Juliet although our families’

conflict had to do with race.  My parents didn’t want

me to be with a white man and your parents

didn’t want you to be with a black woman.  They

didn’t understand or believe that love should be

color blind.

 

They made us feel guilty for falling in love.  The people

we have loved and known all of our lives have become

our enemies.  Amidst threats of being ostracized from

the family, we decided to elope.  And here we are in the

eternal city with no regrets.  Love is our cross to bear.

And we bear it with courage and pride.

Falling in Love

Gloria was walking down the sidewalk after visiting her grandmother in the nursing home when she ran into David Mansfield.  He was heading into a café when he spotted her.  Smiling, he walked over to her.  “Hello, Gloria,” he said.

She smiled at him.  “Professor Mansfield.”

“Please call me David.  It makes me feel less old,” he said.  “How are you?”

“I’m fine, David,” she said.   Dressed in a black shirt and tan colored slacks, he looked very attractive.  He was twenty years her senior and a widower with a teenage son.  He used to be her History professor.  “I just came from visiting my grandmother.”

“How is she?”

“It’s hard to see a woman who was once very active confined to a wheelchair.”

“I was just about to grab a cappuccino.  Would you like to join me?”

She nodded and followed him into the café.  They found a table at the back by the window.   “The good thing is her mind is still agile and she can remember things I have forgotten.”

“That’s good.  My mother had Alzheimer’s.  It was sad seeing her mind deteriorate.  It was tough on my father.  He died soon after.  They had been married for over sixty years.”

“Sixty years.  That’s wonderful.  My parents got divorced ten years ago.  My father remarried and lives in Seattle and my mother has started dating again.  I hope that when I get married, it will last.”

“In my case it was death, not divorce.”

“How did she die?”

“It happened quite suddenly.  She was running up the stairs to answer the phone when she missed a step, fell and struck her head.  Mrs. Moore, our housekeeper found her.  Mark was at school.  It was a great shock for all of us.  This happened a week shy of her fortieth birthday.”

“I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a spouse or a parent.  How is your son doing?”

“Oh, he’s doing well.  He’s studying in Germany.”

“Good for him.  I always wondered what it would have been like to study abroad.  Sometimes I wished I had.”

“I’m happy you didn’t,” he said quietly.  “I wouldn’t have met you if you had.”

“Now that you mention it, I’m happy I didn’t study abroad either.” She returned his gaze, feeling her heart beat a little faster.  “I guess there’s no harm in me telling you this now, but I was very attracted to you.  I used to look forward to seeing you twice a week.  I was very sorry when the semester was over and when I graduated I wondered if I would ever see you again.  I was tempted to email you and ask you to have a cup of cappuccino with me.”

“And here we are having that cup of cappuccino.” A pause and then, “So, where do we go from here?”

“Wherever you would like,” she said.  She was flirting with him and it was exhilarating.

“I have a confession to make,” he said, leaning over.  “I was attracted to you too but I couldn’t allow myself to entertain any thoughts of having a relationship with you because it was against the university’s policy.  It was tough, though, walking into the classroom and seeing you.  After you graduated, I thought about you and wondered how you were doing.  I was sorry that I didn’t ask you to keep in touch.”

“Bumping into each other like this wasn’t an accident.  I believe it was God’s doing.”

“I’m very thankful to Him.  Are you free this evening?”

“Yes.”

“Have dinner with me.”

“Yes.” She took out a slip of paper, wrote her number and address on it and handed it to him.

“You know after Alice died, I never thought I would be interested in anyone else.”

“You must have loved her very much.”

He nodded.  “Yes, I did.  She was my first love.”

“I have heard it said that it is your first love that is very difficult to forget and that it will never die.” If he decides that he wants to have a relationship with me, will he always compare Alice and me? She wondered, her heart sinking at the thought.

“The memory of a first love never fades.  It stays with you.”

“Yes, I suppose it does.” She finished her cappuccino and stood up.  “I’m afraid I have to go now.”

“I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said, rising to his feet and looking down at her, his expression inscrutable.  “It was really nice seeing you again, Gloria.”

She smiled and held out her hand.  “It was nice seeing you again, David.”

He took her hand.  “You don’t mind going out with a man almost twice your age, do you?”

She shook her head, her pulse racing.  His hand felt warm against hers and his thumb was rubbing against the back, stirring all sorts of sensations in her.  “No, I don’t,” she assured him breathlessly.  The waitress came over to the table at that moment and he released her hand.  “I’ll see you later,” she said before turning and walking away.

As she walked to the subway, she wondered if she was not making a mistake getting involved with a man who was still in love with his deceased wife.  She wrestled with herself.  Her mind was warning her that she could get hurt but her heart was urging her to go for it.  Her heart won the battle.  The desire to be with him outweighed her reservations and she made up her mind that she would go out with him.  Her friends would probably have a lot to say about it but she didn’t care.  It was her life to do what she wished with it.

As soon as she got home, she went to her wardrobe to see which outfit she could wear and settled on the red jersey dress.  After she straightened the place, she took a shower and got ready.  She opted to wear her hair up, with a few tendrils framing her face.  A pair of red high heeled boots and matching handbag completed the outfit.  She paused in front of the mirror and was satisfied with how she looked.  Just as she left the bedroom, the doorbell rang and her heart skipped a beat.  Nervous, she hurried to answer the door.

David stood there, his coat open to reveal a charcoal grey suit with a black shirt, no tie and a light scarf draped loosely around his neck.  He looked incredibly handsome.  She saw his gaze travel slowly over her and the admiration in their depths when they shifted back to her face.  “You look beautiful,” he said quietly.

“Thank you,” she said, suddenly feeling very shy.  Dragging her eyes away from him, she hurried inside to grab her coat, put it on before she pulled the door in and locked it.

They went to a French restaurant in a historic former men’s club across from the Yale campus.   She used to walk past this place and never once did she imagine that one evening she would be having dinner with Professor David Mansfield.  She looked around, her face beaming.  The restaurant was elegant, not stuffy as so many of these fancy types of restaurants tended to be.  She was impressed with the high ceilings and beautiful woodwork.  When she looked at David, she found him watching her with an amused expression on his face.  “Have you been here before?” she asked.  “It’s beautiful.”

“No, I’ve never been here before but I know a few people who have and they all had great things to say about it.”

She didn’t know why but she was glad that he had never been here before.  They were experiencing something new together.  She hoped to have many other such experiences with him.

They shared the appetizer, ordered the same salad and while he had the grilled lamb chops, she had the roasted duck breast.  They passed on dessert and had coffee instead.  It was a very enjoyable evening.  She learned that his parents were in Berlin during the 1936 summer Olympic Games.  “The highlight for them was seeing Jesse Owens win four track and field gold medals.”

“Yes, it must have been wonderful seeing history unfold right before them.  Have you ever been to Germany?”

“Yes, I have been couple of times.  My mother’s family is German.  She told me that her parents risked their lives during World War II by hiding Jewish friends from the Nazis.  Their names are listed in a museum among other Germans who helped Jews to stay alive under Nazi dictatorship.”

“You must be so proud of them,” she said.  “They risked their lives to save lives.  I’m thankful that they weren’t caught.”

“Yes.  They would have been executed.”

“And you wouldn’t be here with me,” she said.  She couldn’t imagine a world without David Mansfield.  She thanked God for watching over his parents and protecting them from being discovered by the Germans.

David’s eyes darkened and he covered her hand with his.  “I’m happy with the way things turned out,” he agreed.  “It would have been a shame if you and I hadn’t met.”

They talked about other, lighthearted things and then it was time to go.  When they got back to her apartment, she invited him in.  After she locked the door and turned to face him, they watched each other as they removed their coats, not saying anything.  The air was suddenly filled with tension—a tension that had begun that afternoon in the café when he held her hand and had been building up all evening beneath the surface and now it was at the surface.

Compelled by a desire too strong to contain, she reached out and dragged off his jacket.  Fingers trembling, she unbuttoned his shirt.  She couldn’t tell whether it was his harsh breathing she heard or her own.  The rest of his clothes followed and he was standing there, with only the scarf draped around him.  She removed it and tossed it on the floor at his feet.  Then, she stripped and took the pins out of her hair, letting it down so that it fell in unruly curls about her face.

Muttering under his breath, he reached for her pulled her roughly against him, his mouth finding her and plundering it feverishly.  She clung to him, kissing him back wildly.  For several minutes they stood there, exchanging fiery kisses and then, he scooped her up and carried her over to the rug in front of the electric fireplace where they made passionate love.

After that night they became romantically involved.  When the summer holidays came, his son Mark visited and Gloria invited them both over to her place for dinner.  She was nervous about meeting Mark but David assured her that it would be fine.  Mark was a splitting image of his father, a few inches shorter and lanky.  He was very pleasant and he spoke about his studies and how he liked living in Germany.  Dinner was a success.  They enjoyed it and while she was in the kitchen cleaning up, they relaxed on the sofa.

“So what do you think?” David asked him.

“She’s a lot younger than I expected,” Mark said.

“She was my student,” David told him.  “She graduated last year.”

“I like her.  Do you love her?”

“Yes.”

“And does she love you?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I’m happy for you.”

“That’s good to know.  I never thought that I would fall in love again.  I still think about your mother and I will always cherish the life I had with her.”

“Mom would want you to be happy and it is obvious that Gloria makes you happy.”

David smiled and hugged him just as Gloria joined them.

Mark stood up, looking apologetic as he announced that he had to leave.  “I have an early and very busy day tomorrow,” he explained.  “Gloria, thanks for the dinner.  I enjoyed it.  And it was really nice meeting you.”

Gloria hugged him warmly.  “It was nice meeting you too,” she said.  “I hope to see you again very soon.”

“You’ll see me before I head back to Germany.  Dad, let’s do lunch on Friday.”

“Sure thing, Mark.”  They clapped each other on the back.  “See you on Friday.”

Gloria saw him to the door.  When she rejoined David in the living-room, he pulled her down on his lap.  “We have his blessing,” he told her.

She smiled, putting her arms around his neck.  “I’m relieved to hear that.”

“You’re a bit young to be his step-mother but that can’t be helped.”

Her eyes widened.  “His step-mother?”

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a box.  He opened it and took out the ring.  She stared at it.  It was a white gold diamond rose engagement ring.  It took her breath away.  Her eyes flew up to his face which was becoming blurry.  “Will you marry me, Gloria?”

She didn’t trust herself to speak so she nodded vigorously, the tears falling now.  And she watched as he slid the ring onto her finger.  It was exquisitely beautiful.

David put his arms around her waist.  “When I met Alice, I fell in love with her once but with you, it’s different,” he confessed.  “Every time I look at you, I fall in love with you all over again.  And I will keep falling in love with you for the rest of our lives.”

“Falling in love with you is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she whispered before she cupped his face between her hands and kissed him.

 

 

 

Source:  Union League Cafe

The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joining in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

Family Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a telephone call.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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