Happy News

It was late by the time Abigail got home and she was tired.  Gingerly, she opened the front door went inside.  The light in the foyer was on.  Noah must have left it on for her.  It’s a good thing she had grabbed something to eat.  She wasn’t hungry and could go straight to bed.  As she was about to go upstairs to their bedroom, she noticed that the light in the basement was on.  Noah was still up.

She went downstairs.  He was sitting on the leather sofa watching TV.  He turned when he heard her.  She smiled at him.  “Hi, Honey,” she said.  “I thought you’d be in bed.”

“I wanted to wait up for you,” he said.  He turned off the television and glanced at the clock.  “It’s almost midnight.”

“I know and I’m sorry.  Vicky wanted to go for dinner and dancing on her birthday so we went to a popular Latin restaurant.  We had a good time but I had to leave.  They are still there.  You wouldn’t think that they have to go to work tomorrow.”

She went over and leaning over she kissed him.  He pulled her down on the sofa next to him.  “Did you dance with anyone?” he asked.

“Of course not,” she said, playfully punching him.  “I’m a married woman, remember?”

“No one would be able to tell that you’re married because you’re not wearing your ring.”

“That reminds me, tomorrow I have to stop by the jeweler’s and pick up our rings.”  They had them engraved with the Hebrew word, Mizpah which meant, May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent from one another.

“You and I met at a nightclub,” he reminded her.  “You were with your friends and I was with a couple of guys from work.  When I saw you, I felt as if someone had knocked the breath out of me.  I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”

“I noticed you the moment you walked in and thought it was cute the way your friends were urging you to come and talk to me.  You were the only guy I danced with that night.  We exchanged phone numbers and had our first date the following day.  And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“We’ve been married for three years.”

“Yes, and one day we will be married for fifty years and counting.”

He smiled and reached over to kiss her.  “I look forward to growing old with you,” he murmured against her lips.

“Me too,” she said.  She drew back to look at him.  “Noah, remember how I told that I’ve been feeling tired lately?  I don’t know how I managed to get through tonight. ”

He frowned.  “Yes, I remember.  And I’ve noticed it too.”

“Well, I went to see the doctor this morning.”

He was looking very anxious now.  “What did she have to say?”

She reached out took his hands in hers, her eyes meeting his.  “‘She said, congratulations, you’re going to have a baby.'”

He stared at her.  “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes,” she cried in delight.  “We’re going to have a baby.”

He looked emotional.  “A baby,” he repeated.  “I’m going to be a father.”

“Yes, in about eight months.”

He cupped her face between his hands.  “I love you,” he muttered huskily.

Tears sprang to her eyes.  “I love you too.”

They kissed and then, he stood up and pulled her gently to her feet.  “Is it okay for us to…”

She laughed.  “Yes, it is.”  They held hands as they walked out of the basement and up the stairs to their room.

At the doorway, he picked her up in his arms and carried her over to the bed.  He lowered her unto the soft coverlet and stretched out beside her.  He caressed her face, his eyes filled with love and adoration.  “Thank you for making me so happy,” he said.

“Ditto,” she murmured as she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.

two people in a room

Source:  The Knot

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The Dinner Companion

Daily Prompt:  Egg

“Who’s that hot tamale who just walked in?” Rita exclaimed as she and her sister Kendra sat at a corner table having dinner.  It was a Friday night and they had decided that they would go treat themselves to a nice dinner before heading home.  They were at a Middle Eastern restaurant which one of Rita’s co-workers had recommended.

Kendra followed her gaze and her heart leapt and started pounding wildly when she recognized the tall, muscular figure following the waitress who led him and his date to their table.  It was Fadi.  He looked gorgeous in the red blazer, black shirt and pants.  Her eyes shifted to his date.  She was a tall and beautiful with thick, shoulder length black hair.  The black cocktail dress she wore flattered her figure and gave her an elegant look.  Is that his girlfriend?  Kendra sighed.  “That’s Fadi, the guy I’ve been telling you about,” she told her friend.  “Remember I told you that we work on the same floor but in different departments?”

That’s him?” Rita exclaimed, staring at her.  “None of the men I work with look anything like that.  Who’s that with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re still interested in him, right?”

“Yes, but as you can see, he’s with someone.”

“Is he married?”

“No.”

“That’s good.  Most of the men in my department are married and the single ones stay clear from single women like me.  I think I scare them because I am a single mother.  Most men or at least the ones I’ve met don’t want to date single mothers.  They avoid us like we’re a plague.”

Kendra looked at her friend.  “I’m sorry that things didn’t work out between Jim and you,” she said.

Jim was the man whom Rita had been in a relationship with and the father of her now teenage son.  It turned out that Jim was married but separated from his wife.  He met Rita at a resort and they became involved.  They dated for a while and then the relationship ended when Jim reconciled with his wife.  It took Rita a long time to get over the hurt but Kendra had been there for her, helping her to pick up the pieces and encouraging her to concentrate on raising her son.  Rita found it difficult to get back into the dating game.  The men she met lost interest soon after they learned that she had a son.  She never heard from any of them again, not even the ones who were fathers themselves.  They were running away from blended families.

Rita shrugged, “I guess he wasn’t the one for me, after all,” she said.  “We wouldn’t have been happy.  His wife would have always been between us.  If there’s a man out there for me, I will find him someday. Until then, I can live vicariously through other women.  So, what are you going to do about Mr. Gorgeous over there?”

Kendra picked at the Eggplant dish with almond yoghurt and pickled chilli which smelled and looked appetizing. “Nothing,” she said.  “He’s never really shown any interest in me.  We say hello to each other and exchange pleasantries.”

“Do you know anything about him?”

“A co-worker told me that his parents are expatriates from Lebanon.  They came to England when he was a baby.  He has two older brothers.”

“I wonder if his brothers are as handsome as he?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t look now but I think he just noticed you.  Ahh.  He’s getting up and—he’s coming over.”

By now, Kendra was in a state.  Her heart was beating at an alarming rate and her hands began to tremble.  I must keep calm, she told herself. She looked up the same time he arrived at their table and smiled.  He was looking at her.  “Hello, Kendra,” he said, smiling which made her heart melt.

“Hello, Fadi,” she said, barely audibly.  She turned to Rita, “This—this is my friend, Rita.”

Rita beamed up at him, holding out her hand.  He clasped in a firm handshake.  “It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“Likewise,” he replied.  He turned his attention back to Kendra.  “I didn’t notice that you were here until just now.  If I had seen you earlier, I would have come over before to say hello.  Is this your first time here?”

Kendra nodded.  “Yes, it is.”

“I’ve been here before.  How do you like it?”

“I like the place, the food and the people.”

“Well, I hope you both enjoy your dinner,” he said, although his eyes were still trained on Kendra.  Then, he excused himself and returned to his table.

As soon as he left, Rita looked at her.  “I thought you said he has never shown any interest in you,” she scolded her.  “The man couldn’t take his eyes off you.”

“If he’s interested in me, why is he here with her?” Kendra demanded.

“Have you ever given him any encouragement?  Does he have any idea that you are attracted to him?”

“Well, I didn’t want to make it obvious since he never showed me any signs that he was interested.”

Rita rolled her eyes.  “At the rate the two of you are going, nothing will get resolved.  Either you or he has to make the first move.”

“It’s not going to me as long as he is dating someone else.”

“I wonder why he didn’t bring her over to meet you.”

“I expect he has his reasons.  Let’s change the subject, please.”

“All right.  This short rib in the beetroot glaze is delicious.  I love middle eastern food.”

They talked about other things during the rest of their dinner and Kendra tried to avoid looking over at the table across the room.  She enjoyed her Chipotle chicken pastille with fennel and pickled blackberries while Rita delved into the Lamb rump with sorrel pesto and vanilla-braised chicory.  For dessert they both had the Roasted pineapple, macadamia, coconut ice cream.  Rita signaled for the waiter and after splitting the bill, they put on their jackets, grabbed their handbags and left the table.

As they approached Fadi’s table, he saw them and stood up.  Rita said to Kendra.  “It looks like we’re going to meet his companion after all.”

Kendra had no choice but to stop at the table.  Up close his date was even more stunning.  I don’t stand a chance, she thought.

“I’d like you to meet Gaelle, my sister.  Gaelle, this is Kendra, my co-worker and her friend, Rita.”

Kendra stared at him.  “Your sister?”

“Yes, Gaelle is my sister.  Her fiancé was supposed to be having dinner with us but something came up and he couldn’t make it.”

“I thought you only had two brothers.”

“Yes, I have two older brothers and a younger sister.  She was born here long after we came to England.”

Relief washed over Kendra and her face brightened.  Turning to Gaelle, she held out her hand.  “It’s really nice to meet you,” she said.

Gaelle smiled at her.  “I’ve heard so much about you,” she said much to Kendra’s surprise.  She turned to her brother.  “Now’s your opportunity to ask her,” she told him.

Fadi took Kendra’s arm and drew her aside. He lowered his head so that he could speak softly in her ear.  Her skin tingled where he touched her and her pulse raced because of his proximity.  She could smell his cologne.  “I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me tomorrow night.  ”

Kendra nodded.  “I–I’d like that very much,” she said.

He seemed very pleased and relieved.  “I’ll pick you up tomorrow evening around seven.”  He gave her one of his business cards to write her address and phone number on the back.  After she jotted down the information, she returned the card to him and he placed it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  “Good night,” he said.

She said goodnight to him and to his sister and then preceded her friend out of the restaurant. As they walked to the parking lot, Rita nudged her, laughing.  “See, I was right about him liking you,” she said.  “His dinner companion turned out to be his little sister.  And while you and he were talking, I confirmed with his sister that he isn’t dating anyone.  So, there’s no reason for you not to go out with him.”

“He invited me out for dinner tomorrow night.”

“And did you accept?”

“Of course, I did.  I’d be a fool not to.”

“This is so exciting.”

They reached the car and after they were strapped in and pulling out of the parking lot, Kendra sighed.  “Now, I just have to figure out what to wear.”

“If you like, I can come up with you when we reach your flat and see what you have.  You want to dazzle and impress him at the same time.”

Kendra mentally sorted through the outfits she had in her wardrobe.  “I think I have a couple of dresses that may work.  If I run into any trouble, I’ll call you later and there’s a boutique round the corner where I live just in case I need to buy something.”

“Okay, so if I don’t hear from you later, it means you found something to wear but I want you to call me on Sunday and give me the juicy details of your evening out with Mr. Gorgeous.”

Kendra laughed.  “I will,” she promised.  “Have a good night, Rita.” She got out of the car and waved as her friend drove off.

As soon as she got to her flat, she went straight to her bedroom and pulled open the doors to her wardrobe.  She went through the dresses hanging there, praying that she would find something.  Her eyes fell on the burgundy halter dress with the flare skirt.  It was fairly new—in that she had only worn it once and it was simple but elegant.  She would wear her hair up.  The silver metallic strappy sandals would complete the outfit.  Satisfied and relieved, she closed the doors and went to take a quick shower.  She stayed up to watch the news and then went to bed.

The next day, she cleaned the flat, laundry and grocery shopping.  The time went quickly and it seven o’ clock arrived and so did Fadi.  When she opened the door and saw him standing there, her heart stopped.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in the dark blue suit, light blue shirt and no tie.  His gaze traveled over her and she could tell that he liked what he saw.  “You look very beautiful,” he commented softly.

She suddenly felt very shy.  “Thank you,” she said before she turned to close the door and lock it.  Although she was wearing high heels, he still towered over her.  They walked to the lift and rode it in silence to the lobby.

In the car, they talked about different things and then, he said to her, “Kendra, I want to date you.”

“I want that too.”

He smiled.  “Good.” Then, he reached out and taking the hand resting on the seat beside her, he raised it to his lips.  She trembled when she felt them brush against her skin in a gentle caress.  Their eyes met for an instant and locked in a steady gaze.  Then, he released her hand turned his attention to the road ahead of him.  She sat there, her mind whirling and her heart pounding.  Dinner tonight was just the beginning of what promised to be a very exciting relationship.

 

Sources:  Expat.com; Trip Advisor

A Misunderstanding

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

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

“How long were he and your aunt married?”

“Fifteen years.”

“And they never had any children?”

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

“How did she die?”

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

“What was she like?”

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

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

“Why do you think so?”

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you love her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:  Fantasy Name Generator; Pinterest

The Cruise

He sat back in the chair, arms over the sides, his long legs crossed, watching her as she did her stretches on the deck.  He watched her, wanting her and kicking himself for it.  His attraction for her was like a fever, burning him up inside and a sickness that seemed to grow worse.  At nights it was torture.  He would lay awake, thinking about her and wishing that she was lying next to him instead of Moira.  When Moira and he made love, he imagined that it was Yasmin and felt like a heel afterwards.

Yasmin noticed Adam sitting there and that he was alone.  She wondered where Moira was.  The strawberry blonde was constantly by his side.  However, today, he was by himself and she could feel him watching her and it thrilled her.  He looked sullen as usual but she wasn’t going to let that bother her.  She finished her exercises and went over to him.  Smiling, she greeted him, “Good morning, Adam.”

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure clad in a red tank top and black capri leggings.  He looked like a preppy dressed in a navy blue jacket with a handkerchief in the pocket, a pink sweater over a blue and white striped shirt and green shorts.  It seemed like too many colors to be wearing at once but he managed to pull it over.  A pair of expensive looking brown loafers completed the look.  His thick, silky dark hair was off his forehead as he had a habit of combing it back with his fingers.

“Good morning,” he replied, his expression guarded.

She sat down.  “Where’s Moira?”

“She was here on the deck with me earlier but began experience motion sickness so I took her back to the cabin.  I gave her some Gravol and she’s having a lie down.  Colette is with her now.”

Yasmin took a couple of sips of her water before she replied.  “I hope she feels better.  It’s a good thing that we are at sea all day today.  It would be a shame for her to miss any of the sightseeing.”  She leaned back in the chair.  “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is,” he conceded, somewhat reluctantly.  He was trying not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  The face that haunted him, intruded upon his dreams and thoughts was right in front of him.  Part of him wished that she would go away and leave him alone and the other part wanted her to stay.

“What do you plan on doing now that Moira is indisposed?”

“I don’t know.  Perhaps, I will stay here for a while, then return to the cabin and stay there until it’s time for lunch.”

“Do you mind if I keep your company?” she asked.

He shook his head.  The part of him that wanted her to stay was stronger.  This was the first time that they were alone together and opportunity for him to learn more about her.  “Is this your first cruise?”

She nodded.  “Yes, it is.  I was so excited when Colette told me about it last year.  I’m looking forward to visiting Italy and France.”

“It’s a pity that Le Havre isn’t one of the ports we will stop at when we reach France.  You would have been able to see Paris.  Do you know why it’s really called the ‘City of Lights’?”

She shook her head.  It was so pleasant being with him like this and actually having a conversation, the two things she hadn’t been able to do until now.

“It was referred as the City of Light, not the City of Lights because of its leading role during the Age of Enlightenment and it was one of the first European cities to light its boulevards and streets with gas lamps.”

“So you’ve been to Paris before.  What other places have you been to?”

He told her about the different countries he traveled to and she listened, enthralled.  The way he described the various places was so vivid and detailed that she could almost imagine herself being there.  She could have sat there and listened to him talk for ages but he turned the conversation over to her by asking questions about her.

Her life sounded so ordinary compared to his and when she learned that he was a barrister, she smiled as she pictured him wearing the white wig.  Intrigued, she asked him what it was like to be a barrister.  As she listened to him talk about the 12 month training, what it was like shadowing his supervisor and when he was able to practice, her job as an editor for a fashion magazine seemed dull.  They talked for a long while and then it was almost time for lunch.

He walked her back to her cabin and while he went to his to see if Moira was up for going to lunch, she went to change and freshen up.  Colette was there.  Together, they went to Adam’s cabin and found Moira and him waiting.  “You’re feeling better, I see,” Yasmin commented.

Moira smiled.  “Yes, the Gravol helped.  I’m hungry.”

Colette put her arm around her.  “Good.  You got your appetite back.”

Adam and Yasmin followed them.  As they walked beside each other down the corridor, he looked at her the same time she looked at him.  Their eyes were locked in a steady gaze for a several minutes and then she looked away.  He turned to look straight ahead of him, a muscle throbbing along his jawline and his eyes dark with the emotions that were raging inside him at the moment.

The four of them had lunch together and afterwards, Adam and Moira went back to the cabin while Yasmin and Colette went to the boutique.  “They have a suite,” Colette was telling her as they went on the deck where they planned to relax for the rest of the afternoon.  “I felt as if I were in a hotel.  They have a balcony too.”

Yasmin was thinking about Adam what had transpired between them in the corridor a while ago.  The look they had exchanged.  It was charged.  Is that why he went back to the suite with Moira instead of hanging out with Colette and her?  “How long have they been dating?” she asked.

“About three years.”

“Do you think they will get married?”

“I don’t know.  Look here’s a nice spot.” Colette went on to talk about other things and then she leaned back and covered her face with her hat.

Yasmin sat there, her mind muddled.  The last thing she wanted to do was fall for a guy who was already in a relationship.   She resolved then not to be alone with him for the rest of the cruise.  That night at dinner, she tried to act nonchalant around him and spent most of her time talking to the two brothers who shared their table. The next day when they stopped in Gibraltar, Colette and she accompanied the two brothers to the summit of the rock and the four of them stood there admiring the spectacular views.  She was aware of Adam standing close by and when she came down from the rock and walked past him, she could feel him watching her.

It was hard avoiding him but she felt that it was the sensible thing to do.  When they were on the sandy beach of Costa Blanca, he managed to get her alone.  The others were walking along the stretch of white sand, taking photos, dipping their feet in the water.  As she would have walked past him, he caught her by the arm, forcing her to stop and look up at him.  “Why are you avoiding me?” he demanded, his eyes smoldering as they met her gaze.

“Am I?” she asked.

“You know you are,” he hissed.  “And I want to know why.”

“Please, let’s join the others before they start to wonder—”

“By others do you mean Tom?  You have been spending a lot of time with him lately.”

She turned her head away.  If she continued looking at him, her resolve would crumble.  “Unlike you, Tom isn’t in a relationship.  Now, please let go of my arm.  They are looking at us.”  She tugged at her arm and he released it.  She hurried away, almost running, anxious to get away from him and the feelings he stirred in her.

He watched her go, his heart pounding wildly and his breathing harsh.  How he longed to go after her and tell her how seeing her with Tom pained him. Frustrated, he ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes as the struggled to compose himself before he joined the group.

That night at dinner and subsequent night after that he sat there, watching her with Tom and wondered how much more he could endure.  When they were in Rome, he was distracted by Tom taking photos of Yasmin in front of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.  He hardly noticed his surroundings with their rich history and stunning architecture.  Every place they visited was a blur for him.  He was actually thankful when it was the final night on the cruise.

The group decided to go to the nightclub that night after dinner.  He wasn’t in the mood for dancing and preferred to sit at a table and nurse his virgin daiquiri.  The four of them chatted, reminiscing about the different places they had visited.  Then, Tom and his brother came over to the table and asked Yasmin and Colette to dance.  Yasmin hesitated for a second and then she got up.  Adam watched her go.  Jealousy tore through him as he watched Tom put his hand on her waist and they moved to the music.  His fingers tightened around the glass.

“It’s late,” Moira said.  “I think we should turn in now.  We have a very early day tomorrow.” She stood up.

Adam finished his drink and stood up as well.  After casting one last look at the dance floor, he followed Moira out of the nightclub.  Back in their suite, not much was said and when Moira turned in, he went out on the balcony and stayed there for a while, staring at the ocean, wondering if Yasmin was still at the nightclub with Tom.  It was late when he finally turned in and even then, he didn’t fall asleep for a while.

At breakfast, Moira and he sat with Yasmin and Colette.  Colette did most of the talking while Yasmin toyed with her breakfast, her eyes downcast as she avoided looking at Adam.  When they said goodbye to each other, she managed to smile but inside she was hurting.  She didn’t feel right hugging Moira so she just squeezed her hand and then walked away.  She and Colette were going to spend the day in Southampton before taking the train back to London.

When they were in the car that would take them from Southampton to London, Moira said to him, “I know that you don’t love me, Adam.  You care for me but you don’t love me.  You never did.  I realize that now.  I want to be with a man who loves me the way I love him.”

Adam looked at her, his face pale.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“I’m sorry too,” she said and looked away.  A few moments of silence passed and then she turned to him.  “It’s Yasmin, isn’t it?  I saw the way you looked at her.”

“Yes,” he admitted.  It was no use denying it now.  He was hopelessly in love with her.

“It explains the recent cacophony between us.  You were acting differently toward me and I couldn’t explain why until last night on the ship.  I saw your reaction to Yasmin dancing with Tom.  You were jealous.  You couldn’t hide it.  It was there on your face.  What I would have given for you to look that way for me.”

Adam reached out and covered her hands as they lay clasped in her lap.  “I’m so very sorry, Moira” he said again.  “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” she said.  “You have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.  It’s obvious that Yasmin is in love with you too.”

Adam stared at her.  “Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” she asked, not looking at him.

“For being so kind to me when I really don’t deserve it.”

“I still love you,” she said.  “And I want you to be happy even if it’s not with me.”  After that she said nothing else for the rest of the drive.  Her face was turned to the window so that he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.  When the car pulled up outside her building, he came out and they hugged.  “Goodbye, Adam.”

“Goodbye, Moira.”

Adam got back into the car and after he watched her disappear into the building he told the driver to take him to his flat.

Hours later, Yasmin was in her flat.  She had just finished taking a shower when the doorbell rang.  She hurried to the door and peered through the keyhole, her heart skipping a beat when she saw who it was.  She unlocked the door and opened it.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.

Adam’s eyes were restless on her face.  “I have something I need to say to you.”

“I think I said all I needed to say where we were on that beach.”

“May I come in?”

She stepped aside to let him in and then she closed the door.  Leaning against it, she asked, “What do you have to say to me?” She tried not to notice how handsome he looked in the white shirt and dark jeans.  His hair was slightly tousled.

“I love you, Yasmin,” he muttered thickly.  “I love you and I want to be with you.”

She swallowed, her heart racing now.  “What about Moira?” she asked.

“Moira and I are no longer together.  She figured out that I am in love with you.”

Yasmin tried to process what she was hearing.  “How did she take it?”

“She was heartbroken but bore no grudge toward me.  She is a fine woman and I hope that one day she would find a man worthy of her.”  He moved closer, his hands aching to touch her.  “She told me that I have no reason to be jealous of Tom or any man.”

“She’s right,” Yasmin told him.  “I love you, Adam.  Tom knew that too.”

He groaned, reaching for her and pulling her into his arms.  “You have no idea how seeing you with him has tormented me.   That day on the beach, I was almost out of my mind with jealousy because you were spending so much time with him and avoiding me.”

“I had to stay away from you because of your relationship with Moira.”

“There’s no reason for us to stay away from each other now,” he muttered before he lowered his head and kissed her.

As his mouth moved furiously and feverishly on hers, she moaned, closing her eyes and kissed him back.  She reached up and buried her fingers in his thick, silky hair, the nails digging into the scalp as they exchanged hungry kisses.

That morning, when she said goodbye to him, she thought that it was the last time she would ever see him.  Yet, here he was, in her flat and in her arms, as much in love with her as she was with him.  The bleak future which, moments ago, she had foreseen for herself had turned into a very bright one.

 

young couple on cruise ship

Sources:  Royal Caribbean; Wikipedia; Royal Caribbean; Chambers Student; Wikipedia; Wikipedia;

The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

Affairs of the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He frowned.  “What do you mean?”

“She has a boyfriend.”

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

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

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

“Well, now you know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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