The New Mrs. Cavendish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Married to a waitress.  How disgraceful!”

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

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

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

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

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

“And to drink?”

“A glass of red wine.”

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

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

“Yvette,” she answered.

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

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

“Are you still in university?”

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

“Do you live with your parents?”

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

“Thank you.  So is your English.”

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

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

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

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

“Au revoir, Maxwell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Family Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have a telephone call.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right,” she said.

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamed

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

Alanna frowned.  “Who’s that?”

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

“Where has he been all this time?”

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

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

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

“That’s terrible.  Does Fletcher know?”

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

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

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

“Does Daphne still have feelings for Channing?”

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

“When is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again she shook her head.

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

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

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

“What were your favorite places?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:  Casa CubaViking Cruises Canada

Living Together

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

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

“Has he ever said anything about getting married?”

Nara shook her head. “No, he hasn’t.”

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

“I know that Cameron loves me.”

“Does he love you enough to marry you?”

“I think so…”

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

“What if he’s not ready?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How was it?”

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

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

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

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

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

The Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you come alone?”

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

“I came with Ava.”

“Ava Parker?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know her?”

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

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

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

He nodded with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you busy tomorrow afternoon?” he asked.

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d like that,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not sure…”

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

“But, what about Ava?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Once.  Would you like something to drink?”

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

“So, what have you decided?”

“I’ve decided to let you paint me.”

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

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

“We’re done for today,” he said.

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

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

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

“That would be great.  Are you hungry?”

She nodded.

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

“Take out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman and man in standing

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

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 Wedding

Her heart was racing.  She hoped she looked presentable in her V-neck floral knee length summer dress and the pair of wedges which she thought looked better than the pumps she had considered wearing.  To complete the look, she wore the lovely olive leaf pendant which Paolo had given her for her birthday.

“Mama, incontrare Roxane, il mio fidanzato,” Paolo announced as he presented Roxane before his mother who was sitting on an expensive looking sofa backing an antique grandfather clock with two small tables on either side on which sat figurines and decorative vases with flowers in them and oil paintings above them.  It was a beautiful room but she didn’t have time to admire it.  She was standing in front of the woman who was soon to be her mother-in-law and a mighty sense of foreboding came over her.  It was as if her happiness depended upon this meeting.

A pair of dark brown eyes stared up at her.  There was no warmth or welcome in her expression.  She just looked Roxane over and then she turned to Paolo and said, “Voglio parlare con te solo.”

Paolo’s expression was grim when he turned to Roxane.  “Would you excuse us, darling?  My mother wishes to have a word with me.”

She nodded and after glancing at his mother whose eyes were still on Paolo, she turned and quickly left the room.  There was an accent chair where she sat down.  It faced the door of the room she had just left.

She sat there on edge, her heart racing as she heard the voices in the next room.  She knew that they were talking about her.  She was the reason why they were in Milan where his mother and sister lived.  They were there to meet them.  Paolo’s sister Annabella had driven them over to the house.  Annabella was very warm and friendly.  Roxane felt better after having met her, however, when they were alone, Annabella used that as an opportunity to warn her not to get her hopes up about her mother accepting her.

“I’m not sure if Paolo told you this but when he was in his twenties, he was engaged to a girl named Gianna.  He brought her here to meet Mama but Mama refused to approve the match and the engagement was broken off.”

Alarmed, she asked, “Why didn’t your mother approve of her?”

“She was Sicilian.  Mama thinks all Sicilians are involved with the Mafia.  I know it sounds foolish but that was her reason.”

“What if she doesn’t approve of me, will Paolo break off our engagement too?”

Annabella shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  He loves you.”

“But didn’t he love Gianna too?”

“It was more of an infatuation.  It would have fizzled out even if Mama had approved of her.”

“Annabella, I’m so nervous and afraid.”

Annabella smiled and squeezed her hand.  “No matter what happens, Paolo loves you and he will marry you.”

At the time Roxane was grateful for the warning but now she was filled with trepidation.  She loved Paolo and was afraid of losing him.  It was clear from their encounter just now that his mother didn’t approve of her.  She had looked her over and didn’t like what she saw.  There was no smile or greeting–nothing but a critical look.  This was the second time his mother disapproved of the woman he wanted to marry.  Will the outcome be the same?

“è troppo scura!” his mother sounded angry.

Paolo said something which she couldn’t make out.

“Aspettare e sposare una ragazza italiana che non è siciliana,” his mother retorted.

“Mama, Io vado a sposare Roxane perché l’amo e non importa quello che dici.”

Shortly afterwards, the door was flung open and Paolo strode out of the room, his expression thunderous.  He strode over to Roxane and muttered, “Let’s go.  Our business here is over.”

Roxane got to her feet and grabbing her hand he hurried from the room.  He looked so angry that she daren’t say anything at the moment.  Annabella was in the courtyard when they came out of the house.  From the expression on her brother’s face, she could tell that things had not gone well.  Like Roxane, she didn’t ask any questions.  Instead, she said, “I’ll drive you back to the hotel.”

Paolo got into the back of the car with Roxane and he held her hand as they sat there not saying anything.  Annabella turned on the radio breaking the silence with news and music.

When they arrived at the hotel, she got out of the car and hugged them both.  “Roxane, it was really nice meeting you.  I hope to see you again very soon.  Paolo, I’m sorry things didn’t go as you hoped but I hope that it wouldn’t spoil the rest of your trip.  Call me if you need anything.”

He nodded with a smile and then she was gone.  He put his arm around Roxane’s shoulders as they walked through the lobby and headed upstairs to their suite.  Once they were alone, he took her over the sofa and they sat down.  “You must know by now that my mother doesn’t approve of you,” he said.  “Her reason was that you are too dark.”

Roxane lowered her eyes so that he wouldn’t see the hurt in them.  All her life she had been conscious of her dark color even among her own relatives.  They were surprised that a man like Paolo would be attracted to her let alone want to marry her.  “What did you say to that?”

“I told her that when I look at you, I don’t see a woman who is too dark but a beautiful woman with lovely dark skin.  The first time I saw you I couldn’t get over how exquisite you were.”  He bent his head then and kissed her on the side of her neck.

“What else did she say?” she asked, breathless, her skin tingling from where his lips had been.  She looked at him then.

“She said that I should wait and marry an Italian girl who is not Sicilian.”

“Annabella told me about Gianna.  Did you love her?”

He shook his head.  “I was infatuated with her but no, I wasn’t in love with her.”

“So, what did you tell your mother after she told you to wait and marry someone else?”

“I told her that I am going to marry you because I love you and it doesn’t matter what she says.”

“So, you are going against her wishes?”

“Yes.  My mother’s wishes are irrelevant.  I’m a grown man, Roxane.  I know what I want and I want you.  I want to marry you.

Putting her arms around his neck, she kissed him and he responded passionately.  A moment later, he raised his head to gaze at her, his eyes dark and smoldering.  “I love you so much,” he murmured huskily.

“I love you too.”

“Let’s get married here in Milan,” he said.

She drew back slightly to look at him, her eyes wide. “Get married here in Milan?” she exclaimed.

He nodded.  “Yes.  We’ll invite just Annabella and a few friends.”

The thought of getting married here in Milan never once occurred to her but she liked it.  “Yes, let’s do it.”

“I’ll call Annabella later and ask her to make the arrangements.  I’m sure she will be thrilled.”

“Not as thrilled as I am at the moment,” she said before she kissed him.

Three days later their wedding day arrived bright and sunny and without any hitch.  They got married in the same church where Paolo was christened.  Afterwards, they were whisked off to a friend’s villa where the reception was held.  Everything was wonderful—the decorations, the food, the music.  Everyone had a great time.  Noticeably missing was Paolo’s mother but that didn’t dampen his spirits.  He didn’t expect her to come even though he had invited her at Roxane’s suggestion.  In spite of how his mother felt about her, she still felt that she should at least be invited to the wedding and it was up to her to accept or refuse the invitation.

“You look absolutely beautiful,” he told Roxane as he took in his arms for their first dance.

She was wearing an elegant off the shoulder wedding gown which she was fortunate to find and purchase at such short notice.  Annabella had gone to the bridal shop with her one morning and the moment she saw the dress, she knew it was the one.  She tried it on and it was a perfect fit.

She smiled now at Paolo who looked very handsome in his tuxedo.  “You don’t look so bad yourself,” she teased. She turned her head and looked at her hand resting on his chest so that he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.  She was so happy.  They had a perfect day for their wedding and tonight was simply magical.  His mother’s absence hadn’t spoiled it for her.  She wished, though, her parents could have been there.

He rested his forehead against hers.  “I’m sorry that your parents couldn’t be here,” he said as if reading her thoughts.

“Me too,” she said.  “But, I’m not sorry that we got married here instead of in London as we had planned.  I loved the church and this villa is amazing.  And we get to have our honeymoon here too.  I couldn’t be happier.”

He smiled.  “I’m relieved to hear that.  I want to make you as happy as you have made me.”

She looked at him then, her eyes shining with tears.  “You have made me extremely happy, Paolo, more than you can ever imagine.”

He lowered his head and kissed her as they swayed to the music.

 

happy new wed interracial couple in wedding mood

Sources:  Glam Radar; eBay